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Inbox management almost sounds like a foreign term to most these days. I’ve worked with several clients who had not even considered the idea of having their inbox “managed” before working with a virtual assistant such as myself.
But how do I manage my own inbox when I am managing others? Let me share the ways!
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Let me just start by sharing that the term “inbox zero” is pretty much a “unicorn” term. It sounds so magical, but it doesn’t really exist.
The sooner I realized this, the better!
Every great once in a while, I will look at my inbox for a moment and see a “zero”. But then a rush of emails comes in and that zero is now a “40”.
Oh well. It’s all good – in my virtual assistant business, email is my most used form of communication and is vital for everyday operations.
Inbox zero for me simply means either I’m not doing my job or I rock pretty hardcore. (the latter is probably true, of course)
Please note that I use Gmail exclusively so be advised that some of these tips may not apply if you use Outlook or another email client. Proceed with caution.
1. Set up Filters & Folders. ASAP.
As someone who uses my inbox as my to-do list (who doesn’t?), it’s vital that my inbox is neat and tidy. One of the most important inbox management tools I use are “email filters”.
I utilize the filters to automate the process of labeling emails and delegating to the appropriate folders and subfolders. Some examples are “client/Joe Schmoe”, “Business/Receipts”, and “Apps/Asana”.
When a task email is complete, I simply hit “archive” and it disappears to the wonderful depths of said folder. Voila.
2. Find an Inbox Management extension.
In terms of apps/extensions for Gmail such as Streak, Sanebox, Sortd, etc. I have tried them all! My absolute favorite is ActiveInbox. It has a very simple and clean interface that nicely compliments your workflow.
Essentially, you’re turning your email into “tasks” and marking their priority by the due date.
You also can label the status as “to do” or “waiting on” which I was totally doing the old-school way with labels anyway before I found this program.
The beauty of ActiveInbox is that none of my emails get lost in the depths of my inbox.
At the top of my inbox is my “Today” view that allows me to visually see what needs my attention today with its status.
Each email is so nicely labeled, marked by priority and when the task is “completed”, the email is archived to the respective folder/subfolder. The productivity this allows me is remarkable.
You can try ActiveInbox for a couple of weeks for free but, like most great things, there is a fee that you’ll need to satisfy to keep this amazing tool.
I believe it’s about $45 for a year and it is worth every penny. It has been a total lifesaver for running my virtual assistant business.
3. Unsubscribe from (almost) everything.
You can do it! These days we get opted in for email lists in so many different ways that it can be hard to avoid them.
You can even use the filters I mentioned above to “filter” them out so they skip your inbox and go straight to a specified folder to read at your leisure (or forget about.)
If you know you’ll never read it, just unsubscribe. No one’s feelings will be hurt.
4. Try Gmail Labs!
In the Gmail Settings, there is a magical section named “Labs” that has some really cool add-ons that can maximize your efficiency.
There is a Canned Response option (highly recommend!), an Unsend button (YES!), and a few other gems.
5. Schedule your email.
If you’re anything like me, you will find yourself working sometimes into the late hours of the night, and to keep your boundaries set, you cannot hit “send” right now.
But you also don’t want to forget that important email in the depths of your draft folder either.
Enter Boomerang. This amazing email scheduling extension for Gmail allows you to schedule an email to be sent in the future (or return to your inbox on a certain date/time).
They give you 15 or so free “credits” a month or the paid version will run you a low monthly fee. I have always used the free version but have considered the paid version as well. Either way, I could not recommend it more.
I do have one last tip to offer that doesn’t really fit into the above list.
If you use an app on your phone to check your work email, turn it in the “off” position when you are not working!
I have done this since the beginning of my work-at-home career and can’t imagine things otherwise. Out of sight and (mostly) out of mind until I am back at my desk! Also, turn off all notifications. I check my email enough and do not need a reminder.
What do you use to tame the inbox beast? I would love to hear your best inbox management tips.