Escape inbox tyranny, and save your brain.

Escape inbox tyranny, and save your brain.

When you consider opening your email first thing on a Monday morning, what thoughts come to mind? Panic? Fear? Stress? Maybe the idea of opening your inbox for the first time on a day seems completely foreign, because you’ve been checking it religiously all weekend. Approaching work from a constant sense of overload and scarcity damages our brain’s ability to be creative, to connect with others, and to solve complicated problems. And we all need those things. When we talk to our clients and friends, we see a lot of inbox-panic, and we’re here to tell you: There is a way to freedom!

Each morning, I am greeted by an inbox of no more than 30 emails, each sent since I closed my laptop the night before. My sidebar for tasks outline what needs doing, while my inbox alerts me to urgent (and sometimes not urgent) things that have popped up in the meantime. This is very, very on purpose

With twenty to thirty active clients, and several that reach out for occasional insight, my inbox can be a fright at the beginning of each day. But I close almost every single day with a cheery “No new mail!” Actually, there’s no mail at all.

Why? I can’t remember having an email mentor who modeled healthy digital behavior. This is a new area of human communication, and we’re still learning how we ought to manage it. There aren’t field experts. Instead, there were cautionary tales.

That coworker who was certain I hadn’t sent the proposal? The client who shows me something on their phone only to inadvertently reveal that their mail app says they have over 900 emails? The friend who says she marks emails unread until she’s handled them, and has over 200 unread emails? Cautionary. Tales.

You might say to me, “Hey Nikki! Gmail lets us keep our emails forever! Why judge another person’s process?” Listen, scientists agree that unwieldy inboxes are not your friend. In fact, they are tied to:

  1. Reduced productivity,

  2. Decreased attention,

  3. Delayed responses,

  4. And so. Much. stress.

Despite the work it may take to get you there, the increase in productivity pays off in spades. With the number of registered email accounts doubling in the past five years, and the average member of the workforce receiving 120 emails per day, it’s time to reclaim sanity. Here are some first steps that are going to change everything… I promise.

  1. Use your search function to identify mail that is undoubtedly useless. My keyword “Unsubscribe.” If an email allows you to unsubscribe it almost certainly doesn’t require your follow-up. Select all. Delete. Don’t look back. (You may have your own search terms to add. Former coworker email addresses? Old projects? You’re the windtalker of your inbox.)

  2. Sign up for Unroll.me. This free service bundles all your time wasting emails into a single daily email sent when you can afford to be interrupted. And because you tell it what to bundle, you don’t risk missing anything important.

  3. If something is sitting in your inbox, but needs no follow up? Archive!

  4. If something is sitting in your inbox just so you don’t lose a file, choose G Drive, iCloud, or Dropbox. Name that file and store it there.

  5. If something needs lengthy follow up, create a to do list that includes that project and all it’s parts. Don’t rely on the moving target of your inbox to remind you!

  6. Whatever remains? Address it! That uncomfortable reply to your uncle? Ship it! That reply to a colleague that may take a few moments? Go! Do it! You’ve got this!

  7. And then? Set the theme and background image to something that’ll make you smile when you see it. Mine’s currently a

A day-- or two half days-- spent this way can make even the most unwieldy inbox submit. What’s the difference? Why does it matter?

Because knowing what needs to be handled at a glance makes you significantly more effective. Because the 100x a day subtle message that you are behind takes a toll.

Because the feeling of an inbox out of control can crush your creativity.

Those effects have monetary value that’s hard to calculate, but very real when you feel it. Optimizing your inbox to increase your productivity can change the game. So go get it.


Nonprofits are Messy, So We Get Our Hands Dirty.

Nonprofits are Messy, So We Get Our Hands Dirty.