4 Easy Steps to Mastering Your Email
Being a teacher (or any kind of professional) in today’s world means that you’re receiving hundreds of emails every week. Add this to personal emails, marketing emails you actually signed up for, marketing emails you didn't sign up for, and other random emails, and that number is actually much higher. Personally, before I started thinking about my email system I received about 100 emails a day. Having that many emails in my inbox was a constant source of stress, even if I had marked them off as read and gotten rid of the notifications, so I decided to revamp my email system and after putting in some effort and a little bit of time I end every day like this:
That’s right, I have an email inbox that receives mail from 5 different email addresses, but I end every day at Inbox Zero. It’s actually fairly easy to accomplish, and here’s how:
Step 1: A New App
To get your inbox under control you’re going to need to up your email app game. There are two main features that make an email client perfect for what we’re trying to do:
It has to work on all of your devices. Don’t download an app that works great on iOS but doesn’t have a good desktop client, or that works great on your computer but doesn’t have a great mobile app. This is key. It must have a snooze function. We’ll get into what that means later. Some apps that meet these criteria (this is not an exhaustive list):
My personal favorite (and the one in the screenshot at the beginning) is Airmail 3. I think that it looks the cleanest and it has a whole host of functions that I find very useful. However, any of these apps will get the job done.
Step 2: Separating The Good From The Bad
The first step also happens to be the most time-consuming. To have true mastery over your inbox, you need to make sure that the only emails you’re receiving are emails that you actually want to see. That means that any spam emails in your inbox have to be removed. That being said, you can’t keep deleting your unwanted emails forever because they’ll just keep coming. You have to actually open those emails and unsubscribe from those lists so that they stop sending them to you. Most of the time the link to unsubscribe is all the way at the bottom of the email in very small text. Depending on the amount of junk mail in your inbox you may want to go with the nuclear option and just delete all of them and start from scratch, unsubscribing as they come in. That can be much less daunting and time-consuming than going through hundreds or thousands of emails and unsubscribing from each one. Once you’ve unsubscribed, make sure to delete the email, marking them as spam when appropriate.
Pro-tip: Unroll.me is a great website that can help you with this task!
Note: This is an ongoing process. Depending on how many email lists you’re on you may be unsubscribing from lists for weeks or even months, but that can be done at the same time as the next steps. One warning though: It does require you to give them your email address , so if that’s not something you’re ok with you may not like this service.
Step 3: If You Can Answer, Answer
This is (in theory) the easiest part, so I’ll keep it short. If you get an email that you can immediately reply to, reply to it on the spot. If not, the solution is in Step 4.
Step 4: You Snooze, You WIN!
I used to use my email app as a task list. If I got an email that I couldn’t respond to right away or that I needed to see at a specific time, I would just leave it unread in my inbox so that I had that notification and would remember to look back later. This is a bad habit to get into, and not the most effective way to accomplish things. Remember a few steps ago when I recommend you download an app that could “snooze” emails? Here’s why. When you snooze an email what basically happens is that that email gets stored somewhere other than your inbox and is automatically sent back to your inbox at a certain time, giving you a notification as if you had just received it. In my opinion, this is the single most important tool for inbox organization. Any time you get an email and you think “This requires a response, but I just can’t do it right now”, just snooze it. Get it out of your head and out of your inbox until you can commit the necessary brain power and time to replying because if it’s important enough to reply to, it’s important enough to give your full attention to.
It’s important to note that just hitting a snooze button isn’t the optimal way to do this, however. It’s important to make a conscious choice about when you’re asking your app to send emails back to you. Here is a breakdown of my thought process for choosing my snooze times:
Pick Date: This is for when somebody is planning for something far in advance. For instance, I bought a plane ticket in August for a trip in December. I don’t need that E-Ticket sitting in my inbox, but I also don’t want to lose it, so I snoozed it and instructed my email app to return the email to my inbox the morning of my flight.
Next Week: This sends the email back to me on Sunday (the reason it says 2 days in the screen shot is because it’s currently a Friday as I’m writing this). I rarely use this function.
This Weekend: This sends the email back to me on Friday evening. I usually use this for emails that are personal in nature and not time sensitive. During the week I’m very busy, so I can’t always reply right away to non-work emails.
Tomorrow: This sends the email back to me the next morning at 6 am. I usually use this when I receive a work email that says “Don’t forget that we have this work function tomorrow”. Instead of reading it and trying to remember it the next day, I think it makes much more sense to just snooze the email after I’ve read it the first time and automatically receive that reminder the morning of the event.
This Evening: This sends the email back to me the same day at 5:45 pm. I chose that time because that’s usually right when I’m on my way home from work (my school day ends at 4:45, which is why I go home so late). This is for emails that need to be seen and/or responded to that night. Later Today: This sends the email back to me an hour later. This is perfect for when I’m in the middle of something and just can’t respond, but I know that in an hour or so I’ll be able to get to it.
The great part is, that you can snooze as many times as you like. Often times I’ll be optimistic and snooze for an hour, only to realize an hour later that I’m still not ready, so I’ll snooze it again for late that night.
I know that was a lot, so here’s a nice, neat list to sum it all up:
- Make sure you’re using the best email app for you.
- If you can reply to an email, reply to it.
- If you can’t reply to an email when you get it, snooze it so your app will automatically send it back to your inbox at a more convenient time.
- If you don’t want an email, don’t just delete it, make sure you unsubscribe from the mailing list that sent it to you.