How to Get Your Email Under Control

Inbox zero — is it a faraway dream, or a reachable goal? Getting your email under control can feel like a struggle, but there are plenty of ways to make your inbox productive instead of a chore that never seems to end.

“Email is real work that takes real time,” says Maura Thomas, a speaker, trainer and productivity expert. “You can’t start managing email effectively until you begin leaving some time in your schedule to process it.” Once you’re ready to dedicate some time to wrangling your inbox, here’s how to get it under control.

Sort and Prioritize

Setting up tools to manage your inbox before you even open individual emails will help you blast through them more quickly and efficiently.

First, apply filters to the emails that come in. “Newsletters, announcements and alerts don’t need to land in your inbox,” says Carlo Borja, head of online marketing for Time Doctor, a time-tracking and productivity tool. Instead, use a filter to put these in their own folder or folders for reading later. If you find you’re not opening even automated emails from companies you had subscribed to, use a tool such as to remove yourself from mailing lists.

Then, start prioritizing what’s left. “If it takes less than two minutes to take action — such as a quick reply or checking a file — I do it right away,” Borja says. “If it takes more than two minutes to take an action on an email, I put it on my to-do list.”

Automate What You Can

Integrated tools and native features can help you automate some of your email, saving even more time and making it possible to archive threads more quickly. Borja recommends using Gmail’s Canned Responses feature, which you can activate in Labs. Those template responses save you from typing out the same messages over and over.

Thomas says one of her favorite email tools is Spamdrain, which learns from your preferences about emails you think are spam. She also likes Throttle, which allows you to block senders’ access to your inbox and to combine your mass mailings like newsletters and social media alerts into digests that you read when you choose, not when the emails hit your inbox.

Cut Back On Using Email

Frankly, some of us use email to hide from direct discussions or to delay decision-making — but that just makes our inboxes even worse, experts say. Thinking about when you should use email — and more importantly, when you shouldn’t — can help you get a handle on an overwhelming inbox. “When it comes to team, project, or client communication​ my suggestion would be to get away from email for ongoing conversation or detailed discussion,” says performance coach Jamie Thurber.

So how should you communicate? Thurber suggests moving important, detailed conversations to a platform like Slack. “Slack is easy to organize, you can use icons to mark off specific points or tasks, and it’s a searchable platform which makes it so simple to reference back to previous parts of the conversation,” she says. And if your team uses a project management system like Basecamp or Asana, move project-related discussions to that platform.

And of course, phone calls and face-to-face discussions are still important, too. We’ve all moved away from picking up the phone, but sometimes a two-minute phone call can save from spending your time on a long and frustrating email chain.

Leaders Communicate THIS Way

I’ve written before around my frustration with people (prematurely) proclaiming things are dead and email it seems is the most common victim of this technology bashing. Why in the world are there so many marketers and leaders ready to say “down” with email?

There are a few reasons:


So many people are overwhelmed with the size of their inbox, they can’t even see straight. In fact, an entire lexicon has built up around the corporate email swamp. Heard the terms “inbox zero” or “autoresponder” or “canned response”? These are all responses to the vast amount of email that people send and receive every day. Every day a new solution is proposed. Try this.


Social has become an acceptable way to communicate in virtually any situation. Formerly mocked as a Gen Y only method of getting information back and forth, I regularly find myself communicating via Facebook message, Snapchat, Skype and Twitter DM with analysts, CEOs and even HR professionals. Can’t social just replace email? Well, Facebook tried that.


Why haven’t tools like Hall, Yammer and other social internal collaboration tools eliminated email? If email is the scourge of the planet as posts like this claim it to be, then why aren’t people ready to give it up? This post claims it can cut down on email but not all of it.

Because EMAIL works.



How do you manage email in your workday? Do you think email is dead? Do products like Yammer, Slack and Basecamp make email less a part of your life? More? Let us know in the comments!


Collaborative Communication Car Pool Fast Lane: #TChat Recap

I got the invite to chill with someone. And that’s when it hit me: there’s just too much information, too many content curation tools, too many sharing tools, too many communications tools that don’t really help me communicate. Whirlwind. Zoom. Zis-boom-ba. Turn the fire hose off and get me a real drink.

Sure, early adopters are compelled by their very nature to keep the fire hose on their hip next to their smart phones — like six-shooters ready for action. We want to experiment with innovative ideas, build on them and launch our own.

But do we really need this much action and interaction? Or is it creating a lack thereof? For me personally, I probably experimented with over 10 new “communications” tools in 2011, 9 of which I’ll never use again. I’m sure there are dozens more I’ve never even heard of.

When you ask the question, “How many communication tools/services do you use daily both in business and pleasure?,” my answer is, “Too many and not well enough.” I would argue that’s the case for most of us — tasting and playing and using less than 5%-10% of the communications tool capacity no better than an email see-saw. New and old services alike need utilization that sticks, because if you don’t use it regularly, you kill it, and that’s not what the founders of new tools want to hear. That’s why it’s highly subjective and contextual, finding the right daily communication tools that help move life along and not hinder it.

Facebook doesn’t have to worry about that. Neither does Twitter or LinkedIn. But all are anchored in email, the long-standing messy message moving tool. Not a communications tool, a messy message moving tool. The novelty wore off for me in the early 1990s when I worked at San Jose State University and we used email to push messages back and forth. Because it was fun and we could do it. Woot.

Have you ever tried to have a collaborative conversation via email? I know you have. It’s painfully disruptive and a time sink. Back and forth. Wait. Back and forth. Wait. Back and forth.

Hold the friggin’ phone. Literally — hold the phone and call me. It’s easier that way and more productive. Three others that I’ve found for all my iterative work worlds are Yammer and Skype and SocialEars. I’m sure you have your favorites as well. If you’re in a bigger company, your HR software might even have social communication functionality.

Let’s kill email like I want to kill the resume. Please. And no, I’m not a big texter either since I always text in complete English sentences like critical thinking homies. Word.

The good news is that the #TChat collaborative communication car pool fast lane is one that has remained open for over a year now, and the sharing and comparing and contrasting and venting and networking and catching up every week about all things world of work has made the information superhighway a little easier to traverse.

Then again, another value of virtual collaboration and online communication is that I can turn it off and actually get some real creative work done.

Don’t look at me that way. Get back to work. We’ve got communication innovations to invent.


Thank you to everyone who joined us last night! Welcome to 2012 #TChat! If you missed the preview, you can read it here.

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