The tiger in your inbox - four tips to simplify your email

A man I knew once described email as the ‘tiger in your inbox’. Before the digital age, our fight or flight response would be triggered by an actual threat in our environment (enter the tiger). Nowadays, the majority of us are unlikely to encounter a tiger whilst going about our daily business, but seeing our email inbox can produce a similar response.

Here are four tips to simplifying your email so that it no longer evokes a tiger-like reaction.

Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe: Email is a tool designed to make your life more convenient. If it’s in control of you, it’s not achieving its purpose. Let’s be honest – you could spend all your waking hours reading the clutter that fills up your inbox and never get through it all. So be selective about what you invite in. Unsubscribe from anything you don’t get around to reading, that you normally delete straight away, or that you’re not 110% interested in. If you really miss it you can re-subscribe.

Do it manually: in your email search bar, type ‘unsubscribe’. That should bring up a list of all emails you can opt-out of. Open them up and click the unsubscribe link. 

Want it all done for you? Try an app like unroll me.

Now that you’re on top of what’s coming in…

Get organised: set up a simple filing system for your email that works for you. It’s a beautiful thing to achieve ‘inbox zero’. Set up folders to move your emails into once they’ve been dealt with. Only file emails you really need to keep – delete anything else. I also use an ‘awaiting response’ folder. Anything I’m waiting for, like an item to be delivered, or a reply from someone, I shift into this folder so it is out of sight – and periodically review it. Lastly, if you’re like me and tend to use your inbox as a to-do list, opt for a separate online or paper to-do list instead. You’ll find that it’s a lot easier to keep on top of your tasks when they’re all listed in one place. Plus, you’ve removed that nagging feeling you get any time you log in to your email.

That leads me to the next tip…

The 4 D’s of managing email: delete, do, delegate, defer. Use this age-old strategy to manage your incoming emails straight away. If it’s not important, delete (or unsubscribe) straight away. Next, if it can be dealt with quickly – do it. If it’s better handled by someone else, delegate straight away. And finally, defer emails that can’t be dealt with immediately, and make time to attend to them later. Be cautious about over-using the defer strategy though – have some compassion for your future self who will still have to do it. 

A note of caution: be selective about how much you earmark to ‘read’ at a later date. The reality of the information age is that we have access to far more information than we could ever dream of consuming – so be realistic. If it’s been sitting in your inbox for three months already, chances are it’s not that high on your priority list to read.

And last but not least…

Out of sight, out of mind: Hide your email app(s). We all do it. We open our phone, laptop or tablet for a specific purpose, get sucked in to ‘quickly checking’ our email instead, and before you know it, twenty minutes has passed. Now what were you going online for again? Put your email app, or apps, onto another screen than the main one. Mine is on the third screen on my iPhone, on its own. That means I only check my email intentionally. Do this on all your devices.

And a separate, but related tip: turn your work email off when you’re not working. That means the end of the working week, and all holidays. There’s more to life than work.

Are you ready to go and achieve inbox zen now?