Managing Email Overload: How to Stop Being a Slave to Your Email Inbox

Overcome Email OverloadIt’s easy to suffer email overload with an Internet business.

This is when you spend the majority of your “work time,” answering pointless messages.

That’s why it’s important to have a plan that helps you managing email overload

In today’s guest post, Alan gives a simple step-by-step solution for mastering your inbox.

What I like about this article is he gives a simple solution that anyone can implement.  Use this plan and you’ll experience a dramatic increase in your productivity.

Take it away Alan…

For a lot of people these days, email is an integral part of their lives.

We can feel stressed out, overloaded or ‘swamped’ just purely on the basis of the number of messages we have in our email inbox. Do you ever get that? Whether the bulk of your emails are business related, personal or both combined, the strategies I share below will be just as relevant.

So, let’s start with a simple multi-choice style question to get us going and give us some context.

Q: When you get a new email, is your reaction:

  1. Excitement: “Oooooh I’ve got a new email!”
  2. Indifference: No particular feeling
  3. Depends upon the content: I usually open all emails and have a quick look to decide what to do with them
  4. Depends upon the sender & subject: I decide what to do with it depending upon who send it and what the subject heading is
  5. What is the best way to get this out of my inbox?

Before we go on let’s take a really quick look at each of these responses in a little more detail…

#1. Excitement: You may remember a time… but this feeling probably stopped a long time ago for most people. If not, and you get a lot of emails, that’s great but you’re probably often overwhelmed. Don’t worry, you’re in the right place – skip to the next section and read on…

#2. Indifference: It’s quite possible if you chose answer #2 that you let emails ‘pile up’ in your inbox until it feels unmanageable then you try and deal with them. The risk here is that the most important emails get lost in the ‘noise’ of all of the others.

#3. Depends upon the content: Apart from the extra time taken to check every email, if you’ve gone that far you probably also get ‘sucked in’ to reading more and more of the emails that grab your attention. This is the least time efficient approach and you probably very often feel like you’re playing catch-up.

#4. Depends upon the sender & subject: Most people probably do this or something similar. This can still be time consuming because you could still be letting the email be your boss rather than the other way around. You could miss important but inappropriately titled emails or important mails from people who usually send you irrelevant stuff.

#5. What is the best way to get this out of my inbox?:  This, or a variation of it (the most efficient way, the quickest way, the safest way) depending upon your situation, is the answer I would hope you choose. If not now, then at least after reading this article. Don’t worry I’m going to show you how. If you answered anything but 5, please read on. If you answered 5, well done but read on anyway to see if, perhaps I can give you a strategy or two below to make you even more efficient.

Quick Note: From here on in, I’m going to move quite quickly through the concepts, mainly because I’m guessing Steve doesn’t like 5,000 word articles on his site. Each strategy below could very easily be an article in its own right. So I’m going to try and keep it brief, but if you want more on any of these concepts, please say so in the comments below and I’ll be more than happy to elaborate.

3 Simple Choices for Each New Email

For each new mail that you get in your inbox, I’m going to ask you to make one of 3 simple choices. We want answer #5 from above so please note that each of these choices is a way to get the email out of your inbox. The choices are simply:

  1. Now
  2. Later
  3. Never

Now Emails

There are 2 types of Now emails. Either (1) they are urgent so you genuinely need to deal with them right away or (2) they’re not urgent but you definitely have the time to deal with them and either want to or it would just be quick and easy to deal with this mail right away.

Note: Not all urgent mails have to be Now mails. If something is urgent and needs 30 mins to deal with but you only have 15 minutes, what’s better: trying to deal with it in the 15 minutes you have now or dealing with it later in the day when you can give it the time and attention it really needs?

Once you have dealt with the Now email, you then remove it from your inbox and file it in the appropriate place.

Later Emails

All later emails are filed immediately. They are filed in the appropriate place to be looked at later.

Later could be in an hour, later in the day, at a specific time which you have allocated to look at that category (or folder) of emails where you place the mail, at a non-specific time because you have added the mail to a queue of messages to be looked at later.

You should have your own custom-made system that enables you to look at the right things at the right time. We’re going to look in more detail at ‘Later emails’ and how to design that system below.

Never Emails

There are also two types of Never emails – normal, one-off Never emails and what I’m going to call ‘Never again’ emails.

Never emails are emails you know you don’t need to look at so you can get these out of your inbox by filing them immediately in the appropriate place (e.g. Trash , Spam or an appropriately titled archive folder if you really like to keep everything just in case). Technically these could also be ‘probably Never’ emails but we’re dealing with them in the same way so they’re here.

So what do I mean by ‘Never again’ emails? These are mails you don’t want and you’ll never want from that sender, so rather than just filing (trashing) these, you also need to take the action to ‘unsubscribe’ or stop them at source. This is an important aspect of managing your emails which we’re also going to explore a little further below.

6 Simple Strategies to Overcome Email Overload

Now we’ll look at the mechanics of each of those choices, both in terms of streamlining the number of emails you get in the first place and then how to effectively manage the emails you do get. There are plenty more where these came from but for the sake of brevity we’ll stick with 6…

Stemming The Tide: Some Strategies To Streamline Received Emails

It’s really key to manage the ‘flow’ of emails hitting your inbox in the first instance. Here are 3 effective strategies to do that:

Strategy #1: Cut Out The Junk

These are the ‘Never again’ emails I referred to above – instead of continually trashing repeated mails from the same company that you never look at, unsubscribe from them.

If I find a mail without an unsubscribe link and I don’t want it, or the process to unsubscribe is difficult, that rings alarm bells with me and makes me even more determined to stop whoever is sending me these mails from sending me any more. Reply to the sender telling them you are having problems unsubscribing and ask them politely to help you.

Strategy #2: Get comfortable using RSS

RSS has been a revelation to me.  I only discovered it recently. By all means keep a small selection of email subscriptions coming into your inbox, but for all those that you are just a little bit interested in, check if they have an RSS feed (they almost certainly will have) and subscribe to that instead.

Subscribe to the RSS feed and check you’re getting it with any one of a number of free RSS readers (use Google Reader to start with if you’re stuck, that’s what I use), then click the unsubscribe link in the latest email and unsubscribe yourself.

The great thing about using an RSS reader is that you can actually go and check all of the content from all of your feeds in one place at any time, rather than having these updates all jumbled up in your inbox.

Caveat: there is a difference between an email list and an RSS feed, so consider if you really want the content which is exclusive to the email newsletters before switching to RSS.

Strategy #3: Give Out Your Email Address Wisely

If you throw your business card around, say ‘email me’ all of the time and sign-up to every opt-in you’re vaguely interested in on the internet, then of course you are going to be getting too many emails.

Give out your email address wisely – consider when you do and when you don’t need emails. When you do sign up to an email offer be conscious that the marketer probably wants you on their list. If it’s to get a free offer (which marketers often use as ‘bait’) is it something you really need? (Of course you could always sign up to get the freebie and then unsubscribe but it wasn’t me that told you so… )

Strategies for Effective Email Management

Now that we’ve streamlined the emails we do get, here are 3 effective strategies for managing these:

Strategy #4: Create A Filing System With A Place For Everything (including ‘To-Do’ Folders)

When you get home from a big shop at the supermarket, do you just dump everything you bought in the front room and leave it all there? I’m guessing not. You put things away. The reason you can put things away very quickly is that everything has a place. Not only that but after you’ve put everything away, once you need something, I bet you know where to get it.

You need to do the exact same thing with your emails (or any digital content that you value for that matter).  Having an appropriate place to file everything (usually a ‘folder’ for a lot of email clients or a ‘label’ if you’re using Gmail) makes it much easier to get it out of your inbox (for most email clients move or drag the mail to the appropriate folder, for Gmail assign the appropriate label and click ‘Archive’).

Make some of these folders ‘To-Do’ lists – this enables you to get back to things by category/project and if done properly is extremely efficient.

I’m trying to keep this as brief as possible so won’t go into too much detail here but currently I do different things on different days – Writing on Monday, Internet Business & Coaching on Tuesday, Real Estate/Property on Wednesday, Investment on Thursday – so I have a Writing To-Do list, a Business To-Do list, a Property To-Do list and an Investment To-Do list. I file things that hit my inbox very quickly and go through all of my property emails on property day (for example).

Obviously once you have dealt with a mail either from your inbox or from a To-Do folder, it should be labelled/filed in an appropriate place so you can find it any time you need it in the future.

Strategy #5: Keep Your Inbox Clear

We’ve talked about it a little already & this equates to number 5 in the multi-choice question at the beginning of this article.

Simply by being more efficient, this system actually gives you more time – it gives you the time to read every email that you get when or very soon after it arrives – because by cutting out the junk and streamlining your inbox, and also by giving yourself choices about how to deal with each email quickly and effectively, you have created some space for yourself to decide.

You should now be able to spot and deal with urgent mails right away and to really minimise the chance of missing anything because it got lost among the hundreds of mails you get and you just didn’t see it.

With this approach you’ll be looking at a lot of emails twice but in a very efficient way. A brief initial look which allows you to see if the email is urgent and deal with it if necessary, but otherwise tells you what to do with the email, where to file it and also lets you know what you have in your ‘to-do’ list for later and then a second look where you deal with the mail giving it the time and attention it needs. 

Strategy #6: Have A Target Inbox Size: What Number Of Emails in Your Inbox Makes You Feel In Control?

What number of emails would you need to see in your Inbox at any one time to feel like you were completely on top of things?

My number is 10. This is the number I choose as my target to tell myself I’m done. I’m happy when my inbox has less than 10 emails in it. Or 10. But not more. Sure, this can shoot up dramatically. I could go into a meeting or even be away for a day and return to find that that 10 has become 20, 50 or 110, but that’s fine because I am able to get that back down to less than 10 very very quickly (without neglecting anything) using the methods I describe here.

10 is my number – your number could be whatever you feel comfortable with, whatever keeps you feeling in control – it could be 20, 50, it’s up to you to determine that, but for me, it’s 10.

More Strategies?

I did mention above there were lots more where these came from and OK, I couldn’t resist. To give you an idea of some other things you could do really quickly here are some further considerations:

  • #7 Don’t Procrastinate – this system requires action – don’t use if you file & forget
  • #8 Set Aside Time To Manage Your Emails – block out time in your calendar
  • #9 Using the To:, cc: and bcc: fields effectively helps
  • #10 Manage Expectations – e.g. sometimes you can respond too quickly
  • #11 Follow up with a phone call – used wisely can be very personable and effective
  • #12 Communicating effectively can go a long, long way (see above)
  • #13 For more effective filing, consider having a ‘follow-up action needed’ system
  • #14 Use auto-filing for mails you just want to have access to but don’t need to see
  • … (I’d better stop now 😉 what else can you think of?)

I’ve deliberately avoided talking about general communication principles just because this is a huge topic. If you do want to read more about effective communication you could read this article: How To Communicate Effectively. Obviously in addition to the above, communicating more effectively is one of the most fundamental things you can do to keep on top of any communication mechanisms, email included.

So Goodbye Email Overload… Now Who’s Boss?

I hope this helps you be the boss of your emails. If you want to discuss any of the above
further just let me know and I’ll be glad to help…

I hope this helps you be the boss of your emails. If you want to discuss any of the above further just let me know and I’ll be glad to help…

You can find Alan at Life’s Too Good, a blog about helping you gain more out of life and enjoy it to its fullest. 

Featured sections include Being Your Own Life Coach, Improve Your Health, Getting More for Your Money, and Free Business Coaching

Update:  Alan has gone above and beyond a normal guest post.  In addition to this article, he’s also created video that walks you through the process of eliminating the overload in your email inbox:

Take Action. Get Results.

53 thoughts on “Managing Email Overload: How to Stop Being a Slave to Your Email Inbox”

    • Hi Cristina,

      thanks I’m glad you liked it! I love Gmail too – by ‘tags’ you mean labels, right? If so, I use these a lot too, if not, what are tags? 😉

      take care,

    • Cool – I’m glad that worked, I didn’t want to give too much but also didn’t want to just leave you with ‘There’s lots more where these came from’ (felt like leaving it at that would be a cop out…),

      thanks for the comment!

  1. One reason I enjoy using gmail is that I can set up filters for my inbox. A few filters are set up to go straight to trash. Notifications are auto-marked as Read. One other cool feature is how messages can be prioritized. And of course, filtering out spam.

      • It would be cool to auto-filter mails from marketers who refuse to let you unsubscribe so that they get filed automatically to Trash whilst at the same time sending them 5 or 10 mails back, ideally to the personal email address of the list owner 😉

        just a thought…

    • All – I’ve sent replies to everyone except the last few – not sure why these haven’t come through but I’ll try again (apologies) – I’ve just asked Steve if he got these but please bear with me.

      (not sure if it’s something to do with my set up or not but I do intend to reply to every comment & thanks for these).

      best wishes,

      • All/Alan

        That was my set up I guess. I have been away from my computer for the last day and a half and didn’t check. Somehow they ended up in spam…but they should all be up there now.

        • Hey Steve,

          thanks but you didn’t need to approve this one!! 😉 I can see that the comments got through in the end. Thanks for approving this anyway, at least it shows that I’m trying to answer all the comments! I have to say you have a really great readership!!

          take care & thanks again for posting my article!

          • That was my thinking on approving it. To put the onus on me…not you.

            I do appreciate all your great replies. It is always awesome to have a guest poster who really “gets it” and strives to give great replies to every comment.

            I am just sorry so many of them seem to be getting spam binned. (just pulled this one out now too).

            Anyway if any more don’t seem to be showing up right away, don’t worry…I will keep an eye on the spam bin and get them out 🙂

            Again, thanks for all the great replies here. Much appreciated!

  2. Hey Kevin,

    thanks for the comment & that’s cool but why have anything filtering straight to trash? Why not just stop getting those mails in the first place (or do you mean because these are mails you can’t unsubscribe from).

    One cool trick I have set up that filters straight to trash is a backup of my website – it goes straight to Trash but because trash is deleted after 30 days it means I basically get to permanently have the last 30 days of backups of my site without these piling up and taking up too much space.

    I got this tip from this article:


  3. Hey Kevin,

    That’s Cool but why have any filter going straight to your trash box (having said that I have one which I’ll tell you about in a moment) – why not just stop these mails altogether (or are these mails you can’t unsubscribe from)?

    One cool thing I do with a filter straight to my trash is I mail myself backups of my WP site & send these straight to Trash. As trash is kept for 30 days what this means is that I permanently have 30 days worth of backup of my site without these piling up & taking too much space (which I think is very cool).

    I got this tip from here:


  4. Excellent tips Alan!

    Email overload was the exact thing I got when I first started. Now I’ m more advanced with my inbox thanks to months of dealing with marketer’s lists lol! I usually go with the 4th solution. But you’re right, sometimes I miss out important messages just because of the “noise.”

    What you’ve shared with us here are very useful. I think this should be a “must-read” posts for people who get swarmed with their daily inbox!

    See you around 😀

    • Hi Duy,

      thanks so much for your kind comments – very much appreciated!

      I know exactly what you mean with the marketers lists and I’m sure a lot of people get that when they first start online (I did & it’s why RSS ended up being such a revelation – I’d gone for so long knowing it was there but thinking it wasn’t something that was really for me!)

      thanks again & take care,

    • Hi David,

      yep GMail has certainly come a long way and I have to agree with Jay, it’s the email client to have…

      As an aside I did have a similar theory about Google sites – and started my website building experience on there. I stuck with it for some time with the same theory that if Google didn;t have it, they;’d develop it soon enough. They didn’t have paypal, but I was right – they added it. They kept (and keep) developing it but I wouldn’t recommend it & in the end moved over to WordPress – Google Sites is still no WordPress (yet?) maybe too much catching up to do in that case.

      thanks for commenting,

    • If alerts are important to you and you’re receiving lots of them then you can still prioritize how you get them out of the inbox by using the tips in the article. They’re still email that needs to be dealt with.

      The important thing is getting them out of the inbox in an efficient manner.

    • Hi Kate,

      thanks for commenting – the main point is if like most people email is a big part of your everyday life (my 1st sentence) and you are struggling to keep up with your emails (email overload) then these are tips to get on top and be the ‘boss’ of your emails (as Jay points out below the same principles can be applied to lots of things – messages, facebook, twitter, alerts…).

      The ideal is to be in control of your own time and have an efficient system to be on top of all of the things vying for our attention in the modern digital age.

      Does that answer your question?

      best wishes,

  5. In my opinion, the cleverest thing is not to give your e-mail address to everyone, because sometimes the number of letters can be so big, that you can even miss an important one. Actually you also mentioned this point, but I guess that it can be the most important one

    • You’re Right!!

      Plus many people don’t realise that often when they give their email address they’re ‘opting-in’ to a list.

      It’s not my favourite – the thing that’s worked best for me is having a system that lets me stay on top and choose when I want to deal with my emails (by category effectively) but I suppose what the most important one is will vary per person depending upon your situation & what you’re already doing,


  6. These are really helpful tips and I must say that at one time this spoke directly to me.

    If you really want to manage your email well and you’re using anything BUT Gmail, go get a Gmail account now. I don’t know any other email client that is better suited for busy people like us.

    One of the most useful features you’ll find is filters and you can tell the filter what to do with the email (mark as read, skip inbox, delete etc). A filter can even add the appropriate label and if you skip the inbox you’ll find the label marked with the number of unread messages so you won’t miss it.

    • Thanks Jay,

      I really appreciate that & I completely agree with you, Gmail is my favourite email client by quite a stretch too.

      Did you know that from the same email account you can add any other accounts you have in Gmail so you can reply as any account you own (i.e. even if it’s not gmail) – you probably already knew that but just thought I’d mention it (let me know if you want to know how),


      • Yeah I forwarded my old Hotmail there and I add all my website email addresses there with corresponding folders for each so I could easily see when I got new email for each site.

        It’s a great alternative to Outlook, which I used before I learned to use Gmail for that purpose. I just had to do something because I would rarely check Outlook.

        • Yup – also I love the fact that you can set it to automatically reply as the email address that the mail was sent to (so you can basically operate as many email accounts as you want on auto-pilot). I don’t think Outlook can do that!

          Jay, can you do me a small favour? Read this and let me know what you think,


          • I may not be really understanding what you are exactly talking about 🙂 but I use Thunderbird and it is amazing. And that is just because I have several email addresses, some Gmail, some Yahoo and some domain name addresses. So if you didn’t try it, give it a go.

            And now tell me, where do I find those options to make Gmail my get it all email?

            • Hi Brankica,

              try this:

              1. Login to your GMail account
              2. Go to Mail Settings (click the cog on the top right of your screen)
              3. Click on ‘Accounts and Import’ (3rd link from left at the top)
              4. Click on ‘Add another email address you own’ (in 3rd section)
              5. Enter your name and alternative email address & Click the ‘Next’ button
              6. Click the ‘Send Verification’ button
              7. Login to the alternative email address and click on the verification link

              That’s it! You should now be able to send emails from that address via email (you will get a drop-down selection box next to the ‘To:’ field).

              You can add as many email addresses as you want in this way (I have about 10).

              You can also configure it to automatically reply as the email address the mail was sent to.

              Let me know how you get on,

              take care & best wishes,

    • Wow. You trade-marked those 9 tips? Not sure I agree with your #9 Delete Agresssively – if you have a good system in place there shouldn’t need to be anything aggressive about it (it will lead to mistakes),

      cool if you’re making money out of that though!


  7. I’ll keep this in mind, never hook yourself up in your email because it can really drain you when you received emails you cannot determine what is junk and what is essential…Thanks for sharing it…

  8. Timely post with the email flood rising everyday… It seems like the biggest factor for me is schedule. I need to set specific times to review emails and decide how to handle them or the day will get away from me.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Yes it’s definitely important to have set times when you decide to deal with emails – without this it can be a bottomless pit with a variable impact on your time so you never really feel in control (as you point out).

      take care,

  9. The best things to do is to create an email adress specifically made for your business. Second is to make sure to check mail regularly to avoid pile up of mails, especially spam ones.

  10. Yeah, email overload is really a common problem when you are into internet business. I for one get thousands of emails every day. I have outsourced someone to manage my emails for me. It is for the better, since I used to spend almost 5 hours a day just filtering them.

    • Thousands every day? Thousands? Wow, surely no one individual needs that much. How come you got so many in the first place? Surely anyone in the business of getting that many emails should be sending some elsewhere (i.e. delegating) in the first place? Ort you need to do a LOT of unsubscribing from those you don’t really need.

  11. Thanks for the advice, I’m the kind of person who watches their emails throughout the day but deletes all the uneccessary ones at night. Long gone are the days where I’d let emails just pile up in my inbox!

    • Sounds cool but not everybody can watch their emails throughout the day without getting time-warped as they are sucked into some of them 😉

      Nice enough if you can manage to do that and stay on top of yours though…

  12. great post, gmail for me is good as I can set up filters for my inbox. A few filters are set up to go straight to junk. Notifications are auto-marked as Read,and also messages can be prioritized

  13. Hey Alan (and Steve), this is the second post about emails I read today 🙂 Kristi H. posted one on KissMetrics I think and I read it earlier during the day and went from 1.600 unread emails in one of my email inboxes to about 450 in about an hour. I am using Thunderbird to manage my emails cause I have several and I just implemented filters on the non-gmail addresses I use. So now they will all go to appropriate folders even before I see them (or some will be deleted). I also unsubsribed from a bunch of emails so I will see how it all works out in the next few weeks 🙂

    • Hi Brankica,

      good going!! Sounds like you’re making great progress and really on top of it now. You probably have everything you need and email overload is a thing of the past for you but feel free to let me know if you need and more tips 😉

      take care & have a great festive season,

  14. When you say, “Keep Your Inbox Clear” it sounds so obvious but a lot people neglect to do that part including me. Now, I try to make it a habbit of organizing my emails with sub folders, which is a lot cleaner and more organize.

  15. I think a combination of turning off ‘auto alerts’ (from outlook) and setting aside time (via batching strategies) works the best. I don’t view sorting through email as a negative (as that puts you in the wrong mindset), but like a pan handler that’s looking for the nuggets shouting out for attention.

  16. Hi Alan,

    Awesome tips. I don’t have any categories or tags for my emails. But I understand how powerful this is. I use gmail and I can access it from whenever .

    What I’ve been doing is to focus on working in batches when it comes to emails. I get a lot of emails, and filtering them into three categories seems like the right thing to do.

    Thanks a lot

    • Hi Jens,

      thanks for the kind comment – I use (and really like) gmail too – as the article wasn’t specifically about gmail I didn’t mention too much about it’s benefits but one of them is definitely the storage as well as as you mention being able to use it from anywhere.

      As well as categorizing my mails I also never delete any of them, I just archive them all – this ends up being pretty powerful when you combine a clear inbox with good organisation and the power of googles search capabilities with no mails thrown away…

      Best wishes for XMas & the New Year,

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