If you’re overwhelmed by all the emails you're getting on a daily basis, inbox zero — regularly managing your email down to zero new messages — will help you stay more on top of your tasks, and generally feel more in-control of your connected life. Here’s what you need to know to reclaim your inbox.
1. Unsubscribe from mailing lists you don’t like, and do it the moment they arrive.
The aptly named CAN-SPAM Act is a piece of legislation that makes this easy to do for a lot of mailing lists, as the law requires a plainly visible unsubscribe link in all commercial emails.
2. Use filters.
Modern email providers like Gmail have a robust set of customizable filters that can help call more attention to important emails, and file away the junk for later. You may want to know about new messages from certain friends, family, or colleagues the moment they arrive. But yet another newsletter you don't remember signing up for in the first place? Take care of them. If you're using Gmail, all you have to do is go to your Settings in the right-hand corner of the screen and select the Filters and Blocked Addresses tab up top.
3. Check your email from one centralized location.
Have multiple email addresses? Auto-forward everything to one primary inbox. Use that inbox as your central hub for email, where you can knock everything out in the same place. For Gmail, click on the gear icon in the top right, then click on “Settings” in the menu that appears. Under the heading labeled “Forwarding and POP/IMAP,” you’ll see a button labeled “Add a forwarding address.” Click on this button, type in your desired email address, and every time a message lands in this specific inbox, it will automatically send an identical copy to your master inbox.
4. Schedule dedicated email sessions.
Instead of constantly clicking away at your inbox throughout the day, pick a few times, say 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., to go through your folders, return emails that need returning, and generally stay on top of tasks, without wasting all your time on it.
5. Tell people to keep things brief.
Use a site like Five.Sentenc.es and include a link to it in your email signature. This will automatically explain your considered approach to email and more readily set the tone for productive, thoughtful communication. The link contains a simple explanation for the reader about why you keep your emails to five sentences or less. And if you want to pick a different number, you only need to replace the “Five” in the site’s URL.
6. Try a third-party email management tool.
This refers to software like Mailstrom, a free solution, and Sanebox, a subscription service, that can help automate a lot of the stuff you wish you could automate with respect to email. They function a lot like your email provider’s filtering system, with the added benefit of some artificial intelligence–style technology to more thoroughly tell you which emails are important. Software like this is praised more and more frequently as a valuable way to tame out-of-control email.