Create a Productive Inbox: It’s Easier Than You Think

Productive and inbox tend to not belong in the same sentence unless there is a negative qualifier. Opening up Gmail can be a scary task on a busy day. I absolutely cringe whenever I see someone with hundreds (or thousands) of emails sitting in their inbox. At the end of the day, email is mail. It’s how most of today’s society uses to communicate (until pigeons make a come back).

Important information such as sale updates, event information, and Buzzfeed articles distract us from what we think we need to work on day in and day out. But have no fear, your inbox doesn’t have to be a scary place! I have turned to the dark side of using my email as a “to do” list through a method called Inbox Zero. Below is a list of how I keep Inbox Zero.

I didn’t realize how much time was spent on my inbox until I started deleting things. Here’s how I did it:

Create a productive inbox, it's easier than you think!

Download  helped cut off the life source of unwanted emails, random subscriptions, and sales notifications. Instead of getting ahead in deleting my emails only to have 5 more come in, I now get all of my subscriptions in one place, set for one time of day.  Since downloading, I’ve unsubscribed to over 400 email lists! If I spent 5 minutes on each email list, I would have saved 33 hours over the past year alone. That’s almost an entire workweek’s worth of savings! Multiply that out by your hourly rate to see how much one tool could save you!

In unsubscribing from emails, I realized how much money I saved from impulse shopping. Before unsubscribing, I was getting multiple emails a day from Old Navy and the Gap (among others). While I didn’t purchase that often from these emails, I was still spending money on things I didn’t need to when I occasionally became a victim to click bait. While not all online shopping or retail list servs are the devil, if they’re unnecessary. If one of your new year’s resolutions is to get on top of your budget, then save yourself from impulse!!


Utilize Folders

Next, I created folders to get everything I didn’t need to focus on out of my inbox. I star information that I’m waiting on a response for. If something will need my response or an action, it stays in the inbox (like a to-do list). Everything else gets filed away if it’s important (like receipts) or deleted if it doesn’t matter. As I check my email, I either file it away, put it on my calendar, or save it as a “to do.” For me, this helped reduce the overwhelm of opening my inbox and seeing a ton of irrelevant information.

To aid this process, I use an amazing Gmail extension: Sortd. While it’s currently in beta test, it works miracles! After downloading the extension, emails can be sorted in 4 different lists of your choice. (I currently have to-do, moving, work, and blogging as my lists.) The different lists make it so easy to remember why I flagged something. So when I have free time, I can prioritize checking another blogger’s post or replying to a networking email. 


Once the emails are within a list or folder, I can come back to them later without losing what I was actually checking my email for. Plus, if I sit down to respond to a moving email, I don’t get wrapped up in other parts of my to-do list. Think of it as the email equivalent of having separate notebooks for separate classes! I love using this for articles to read later but never seemed to read before downloading Sortd.

P.s. you can use my invite code to get into Sortd: 4EH7X

Save Repetition with Canned Responses

Do you have things you tend to say over and over again? Whether as a response to networking, a followup to a client, or a thank you for a meeting, there are definitely some time-saving benefits to having a set response. I had no idea there was a feature to do this within Google until I started writing this post. MyDomaine has a wonderful article on gmail hacks if you want to know more about this process! It’s seriously a lifesaver!

Turn Off Notifications

This next part was the hardest piece in becoming more productive: turning off inbox notifications. In my mind, notifications meant more productivity because I was constantly in the loop of what’s going on.

In reality, I was really absorbing information and becoming overwhelmed.

Typically, one of two things happened:

1) I dropped everything I was doing to address it.

2) I forgot about it almost immediately after opening the email.

Neither of these options were actually moving me forward.

I soon realized that constant notifications actually decreased my productivity and my responsiveness. Without notifications I find myself much at ease opening my inbox. If something is important like a bill payment notification, set notification rules to get alerts ONLY when something financial or urgent in nature crosses your desk. 

I’m no longer dropping everything I’m doing to reply to my boss, when in reality, it can wait until I finish my assignment due at midnight. If you have a boss who expects an immediate response, inform that you will begin checking emails every other hour. If they need something urgently, have them walk you through the instructions on the phone or in person. With multitasking, it takes more time for your brain to come back to the initial task. Therefore, you’re saving the company money by training your boss on your communication style. 

Maintain, Maintain, Maintain.

This is probably the most important part of keeping your inbox manageable. You wouldn’t let tissues keep piling up in the trashcan until they overflowed for months, would you? I hope not! Your email is the same way. It can get incredibly overwhelming if you don’t stay on top of it. I tend to let everything go and take 20 minutes to go everything on Sunday nights. I start my week off with a fresh to-do list and a clear mind. 

Do you have any tricks for keeping Inbox Zero? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!