Stop Email Overload: 7 Tips to Keep Your Inbox Under Control

written by Dan Silvestre
Email Management

stop email overload

Today, I’ll share everything I did to stop my email overload.

My email inbox used to be a total mess.

I was drowning in too many emails, most of them unimportant to me. Every day, I was being bombarded with new emails. The number of unread messages kept piling up.

It would take me several minutes to find an important email. Important emails were being buried among the sea of messages. Sometimes, I’d miss them altogether.

I’d stare at my inbox and the hundreds of unread emails and I’d feel stressed and anxious. I used to think to myself: “How did I end up here?”

I knew I had to change.

So I decided to rethink my approach.

I read everything I could on email management and upped my email game. I changed my system for dealing with email. The days of dealing with email overload finally came to an end.

Today, my email inbox doesn’t bring me stress anymore. It brings me calm. I know that every single message is important to me. And I only have a few emails every day to process.

If you’re still struggling with email overload at work, this post is for you. It contains everything I’ve learned to manage email overload.

With these 7 tips, email overload will also be a thing of the past for you.

#1 Unsubscribe from Unwanted Emails

The first step to stop email overload is to receive fewer emails.

Take a look at your inbox. What do you see?

If you’re like most people, you’ll immediately spot several different types of email you do not need. Think marketing or promotional emails and newsletters.

Take a few minutes right now to unsubscribe from anything you don’t need, don’t add value, or don’t serve you anymore.

Here’s a pro tip to do it quicker: go into the search bar and type “unsubscribe”. By law, promotional emails must have an unsubscribe button inside each message.

What should you unsubscribe from?

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you delete an email before opening it, it’s time to unsubscribe.

Keep your number of subscriptions small. Only receive updates that interest you.

This simple first step should decrease 10-30% the number of emails you receive every day.

Unsubscribing from your unwanted emails is a quick and easy way to declutter your inbox. You’re making room for necessary emails.

Now, you get a cleaner inbox. You’re making it easier to find the important emails you need to read and respond to.

#2 Stop the “Email Boomerang Effect”

stop email overload email boomerang effect

Email creates more email. For every five emails you send, you get 3 replies back. This is called the “Email Boomerang Effect“. And it’s within your power to reduce this effect.

Here’s the truth:

You have control over the number of emails you get in your inbox every day. The secret? Send fewer emails. This way, you control the flow.

Here are 4 quick changes you can make right now to reduce your outgoing flow:

#1 Know when to stop

We’ve all been guilty of the “Thank You” email. For example: “Thank you for your help! I really appreciate it”, or “Of course, John. Have a great weekend!”. Instead, show appreciation in person or on your next email thread.

#2 Stop sending the “FYI email”

You’re putting the burden of the conversation on the other person. Instead, write a summary at the top of the main points. Tie every outgoing email to a specific need.

#3 Limit the use of Reply All

They are annoying and time-consuming. Does your question really need to go to everyone in the thread? Only use reply-all if everyone needs to hear what you have to say.

#4 Follow the “Three-Email Rule”

If you’re about to send your fourth email on the same thread, use another communication channel. Call. Believe me, it’s faster for both of you.

#3 Write Effective Emails

To stop email overload, craft effective emails. You’ll streamline communication and cut unnecessary back-and-forth communication.

Here’s how:

#1 Know your end before you start

Why are you sending this message? What is the outcome you’re looking for? What points do you want to make? Type a quick outline. With practice, your outline is the email.

#2 Strengthen the subject line

This is the first thing your recipient sees. Make it count. Summarize the topic of the email briefly. Use specific dates, times, and places to build context and clarity for recipients. You can also front-load categories for context when it makes sense. For example: “Action, Info, Request, Confirmed, and Delivery”

#3 Keep is simple

Write as you speak. Don’t use jargon and squishy words. Stick to the point, be concise, and your email is more likely to be read in full. Put the important messages and questions at the beginning

#4 Format your email

Make it easier for the recipient to read it. Break up your text. Use bullets or numbered lists. Bold action items and names.

#5 Add a call to action

It should come at the end of the email. What’s the action this email requires? Think ‘reply to this email’, ‘click this link’, or ‘confirm your attendance’.

It takes longer to craft a well-written short email than to send a long one. But a well-written short message is more effective.

#4 Use OHIO to Triage Your Emails

the 6 actions on every email

In productivity, OHIO stands for “Only Handle It Once”. Applying to email: you should “handle” each email only once.

Email overload is a symptom of failing to prioritize your emails effectively. So you need to start triaging your email. This allows you to always take care of the important messages.

Use the 4 D’s of time management: Do, Delegate, Defer, or Delete. They provide a simple framework to help you manage email overload successfully.

For each new email that arrives, either:

  • Do. If an email requires immediate action and can be done quickly, handle it right away (see the next item)
  • Delegate. Does the message need an action by someone other than you? Forward it to the appropriate person
  • Defer. If you need more time to deal with a particular email, move it as a to-do into your task manager
  • Delete. Not important or relevant? Delete it to reduce clutter (or archive if you want to be less extreme)

Going forward, don’t open an email unless you’re prepared to process it right away.

You might think “I’ll take care of this later” and move on to another task. But you are creating a cycle.

You’re postponing your action only to come back to it later and use more of your time and energy to decide what to do with it.

Each time you have to re-evaluate and reconsider what to do with an email you are wasting time. And over a long period, this time adds up.

#5 Use the Two-Minute Rule

the 2 minute rule

Here’s something that works well for me when dealing with inbox overload: ​the 2-minute rule​.

This rule states that if an email takes less than two minutes to read and reply to, handle it immediately.

Here’s how to use it:

Open your inbox. Scan your emails and see if you can identify messages that need less than two minutes to read and respond to.

When you find one, open it, read it, and respond. This could mean sending a quick reply, archiving the message, or even deleting it when not needed.

Deal with the quick emails so you can focus on the more time-consuming ones later.

The 2-minute rule does wonders to stop procrastination​ on its tracks.

If an email takes less than 2 minutes to deal with, do it right away. Don’t add it to your to-do list and let it pile up.

By doing this you will be more productive and keep your inbox clean.

#6 Stop Checking Emails 24/7

set email windows

Email was not designed as a real-time communication channel. So why are you checking it 24/7?

I used to be the same. And I felt like a hamster on a wheel, always running but never getting anywhere.

Here are three changes I made:

#1 Set email “windows”

Processing email is just another task (a recurring one). Email “windows” are chunks of time to process email.

​Time block your calendar​ with 2 or 3 slots of 30 minutes to batch process​ your inbox.

Here are my email “windows” every day:

  1. After I complete my biggest task of the day. This is normally around 11 am
  2. After lunch. My ​energy levels are a bit lower​ so it’s a prime time to do some shallow work
  3. Before ending my workday. This ensures nothing falls through the cracks before shutting down

Decide your email “windows”.

You’re your job relies heavily on email to get things done? Schedule small breaks in your day to process your email.

You know best what works for you and your specific working style.

#2 Close your email client when you’re done

Don’t leave your email app open. This is ruining your focus and your deep work​ sessions.

When the urge to check your email arises—and it will happen—take a deep breath. Focus on the work in front of you. Let your mind relax.

#3 Turn your email notifications off

​Context switching​ is killing your productivity. No more constant interruptions. You are free to focus on your work.

#7 Have Templates Ready

I use templates all the time. Instead of typing the same message over and over again, I pre-fill my email in two clicks. I take an extra minute to personalize them as needed, but that’s it.

Here are a few of the templates I use the most:

  • Follow up after an initial call or meeting. I include a brief summary of the main points in bullet points
  • Saying “no” to an opportunity. I thank them for thinking of me and include a reason why I can’t commit
  • Asking for more information. I use this one when it’s not clear what’s needed of me or I need more information to answer
  • Coaching client onboarding. All the coaching program details for new clients

When should you create a new template? If you find yourself typing the same type of email a few times, that’s a sign you need a template.

Sometimes, It Shouldn’t Be an Email

Apply these 7 tips to get your inbox under control.

Are you still suffering from email overload? You still have way too many emails in your inbox. Shocking, I know.

It’s easy to stick to email. For good or bad, you’re used to it. It’s comfortable. But it’s exactly what’s causing your email overload.

Know that email is not always the best medium. Email is not great for discussing delicate topics, decision-making, or complex planning.

When you realize that email is not the best communication channel, get personal.

It’s more effective to call or talk face-to-face.

The truth is personal interactions beat email any day of the week.

Thanks for reading!

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