Engaging with email takes a lot of energy. Many people send emails with an expectation that they’ll receive an immediate reply. That expectation creates an unnecessary pressure for both sender and recipient. With that said, how you choose to set boundaries with your email can create relief or further agony.
I use technology to decrease cognitive overload. Cognitive overload occurs when we receive too much information and don’t know what to do with it. For me, this usually happens when I’m in decision paralysis from having too many choices. There are a few areas of my life that I try to optimize and reduce cognitive overload and email is a huge one.
Welcome to a new series detailing how I organize different aspects of my life, using various tools.
Using Inbox Zero
Inbox zero is a philosophy that focuses on making sure that your primary inbox is empty. The philosophy considers every single email that comes into your inbox a task. If you allow too many emails to sit in your inbox, well, you’ll end up with a lot of tasks and you’ll likely ignore them all. Each email task also has associated actions you can take. You can snooze, delete, archive or reply to an email.
Snoozing is setting an email to return to your inbox at a later time or date of your choosing. Archiving is removing an an email from your primary inbox, but it’s still around if you search for it. I snooze emails I need to think about, archive those I’ve read, and delete junk (like coupons from a store). I currently use Spark for my mobile phone and Airmail for my desktop client. Both allow me to follow the inbox zero philosophy.
Setting Hours and Boundaries
I try my best to set clear personal boundaries around email. I don’t reply to email after 8PM and before 10AM on weekdays. On the weekends, I don’t respond to any emails because it’s my break from most digital media. Boundaries are important. If you don’t set boundaries, you can’t expect people to treat you in the manner that you desire.
While my boundaries are set through my actions, you have the option to be public about yours. In the past, I’ve used autoresponders to do this. It’s important to let people know that you respond to email on your own terms. If that means not replying to emails immediately, you have that right.
I sometimes have the compulsion to respond to email outside of my defined emailing hours. When I do, I allow myself space to compose and schedule emails to send later. Airmail allows me to schedule emails, whereas Spark doesn’t. You’re likely wondering why I don’t use Airmail for both desktop and mobile. The reason is that Airmail is quite slow for me, whereas Spark isn’t. I’ve yet to find my perfect email client: fast and allows me to schedule emails, attach read receipts, and achieve inbox zero on both mobile and desktop. One can only hope.
What About Folders?
I don’t use folders –I find that I have a lot and forget to use them. My inbox is my home base, so I won’t see anything that doesn’t go into it. If I have an email that I need to save, I usually store it in my favorites. Otherwise, folders don’t provide much value to me.
None of this is dogma. You need to find what works best for you, but hopefully my routine can provide you with some guidance if this is a journey you intend to embark on. If this is something that you’d like to try for your life, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Start fresh, clean your inbox
If you want to use the inbox zero philosophy, you’ll need to start off with a clean inbox. How you choose to do that is up to you. Some people just archive everything in their inbox. Others might delete all emails in their inbox (I don’t recommend this).
Try setting a schedule to answer your emails. Perhaps you only respond to email between specific hours. Or you only check your email at certain times of the day. Regardless of how you do it, set your boundaries!
Only if you need to. I sometimes get anxious about emails and need the satisfaction of immediately responding, without sending emails outside of my personal email hours.
Use folders if you need them
If you need more organization, you can use folders for archived emails.