Imagine playing Whack-A-Mole and the more you progress in the game, new holes and moles appear, making it more and more difficult to conquer the game. That feels like my inbox some days. I get a lot of email every day, and managing it has been a challenge I've been working to overcome. Here are some tips I learned that have helped me better tame my inbox:

  1. Realize that leaving the problem unaddressed doesn't make it go away. There's no two ways about it. You got to reply to emails, and the quicker the response, the better. It takes time to reply to email, so an adequate amount of time must be allocated to addressing email replies.
  2. Address emails quickly. Replying to emails, even with one-liners such as "Thanks for the email, I'll look into this and get back to you" are much better than letting emails sit in the inbox. Just as weeds are easier to treat and manage when they're smaller, quick replies to emails are easier to reply to than emails that have been sitting in your inbox for a long time.
  3. It's easy to get overwhelmed, so I've started to focus on just one email or topic at a time. I work best when my mind is clear, and when I'm not overwhelmed by the enormous amount of work that needs to be done. This means not reading ahead or behind all the emails just to mark them unread again only to return to them later -- when I do this, it makes me feel very overwhelmed at the work that I need to get done. Rather, focusing on one email at a time gives me focus so that I can have a clear mind and do one thing well, one email at a time.
  4. Use Gmail's search to it's full potential. I find it most effective to reply to several related emails at once. For instance, if I have 5 emails from a client that I need to process (read, maybe reply to), in the Gmail search box I'll type: in:inbox clientname and my list is filtered by my client, making it easier to manage.
  5. Set a goal. Make a goal to respond to emails back to a certain date and time. When you get there, take a snack break to reward yourself.
  6. Close the inbox. This tip is a bit counter-intuitive, but I've found that I'm more productive when I close my email tab except for certain times in the day. I feel a lot less "inbox fatigue" because I got other important things done. I stopped incessantly checking the inbox for new emails.
  7. Aim for the zen of "Inbox Zero". Inbox Zero mans you responded to all of your emails. If there are follow-ups that need to be made, you used a system to alert you or remind you to follow up with certain people. I use Gmail's labels to help me with follow up.

It's very rewarding to know that you're on top of your communication and that you're a person people can count on to get a quick reply to emails. I'm still learning effective strategies to staying on top of email. Hopefully these tips will help you overcome. I'm interested in learning what strategies you've employed to fight your inbox better. Leave a comment below!