Email has become such an integral part of our lives that it’s nearly impossible to go without it. You can’t simply ignore them and continue to function normally. Just like anything else, however, email needs to be managed and thoughtfully integrated into your schedule.

A popular productivity hack for managing email is the idea of an Inbox Zero. That means getting to a point where you have no emails left in your inbox. Unfortunately this is pretty unrealistic and exhausting. There is always going to be a new email in your inbox and if your goal is to get to Inbox Zero, chances are you’re going to spend your entire day just clearing out each mail as it comes in. A perpetual hamster wheel.

Instead of being glued to your phone or computer, watching for new messages like a hawk, here are seven ways to more realistically manage your emails:

1. Be clear, concise, actionable, and relevant with emails. The idea here is to cut down on the back-and-forth. With ambiguous and open-ended emails you’re only going to get people emailing you back for clarification so you can expect a new email for every one you send out. You want the recipients to clearly understand your email and not have to respond.

2. Use Gmail’s priority inbox. It automatically tries to separate your important emails from everything else. Priority inbox learns which emails are important to you based on your emailing history and what emails you mark as important. In default mode, it automatically separates your mail into ‘Important and unread’, ‘Starred’ and ‘Everything else’, but you can easily change these settings to something that suits you. Filtering your email shows you exactly what you need, the rest is usually junk or distractions.

3. Don’t check your email too often. This is the biggest productivity killer. Every time your email distracts you, you’ll need about 5-15 minutes to recover your focus on the task you were doing. Set up regular but infrequent time slots to check your email. Some people try to power through work first thing in the morning and then slot in an email check before lunch. Then one last quick check near the end of the work day. Creating these time crunches helps to zero in on emails that require immediate attention.

4. Use Boomerang so important emails don’t fall to the bottom of your inbox. It’s a pretty nifty plugin that allows you to schedule emails and reminds you to follow up. One particular feature allows you to remove emails from your inbox and bring them back to the top at a later, more convenient time. The Mailbox App for your smartphone also has this feature.

5. Receive less email by sending less email – practice what you preach. Drawing from Point 1, sending email means you will be receiving email. So if you send less, you’ll receive less. Not only are you helping yourself but you’re helping the recipient form better habits too – everyone wins.

6. Have an email routine. Besides when you decide to check your email, how long you’re allowed to spend reading or writing should also be limited. By setting up a strict routine you’ll know when your time is up and to return to your immediate to-do list instead of being side tracked by a supposedly urgent issue. If it is really urgent, you would likely receive a call.

7. Speaking of calls, don’t handle controversial or highly sensitive topics through email. Email is the worst medium to communicate emotion. All the recipient sees is text so they tend to fill in the context and emotions around an email themselves. If you have something very controversial, you are better off discussing this over the phone or in person to avoid misinterpretations and miscommunication.

Ultimately we need to realize that email is simply one of the many tools we use to communicate with people. It’s important not to think of it as our job and become a slave to it. By using these tips, you’ll be able to manage it more effectively and be more productive. Get rid of those email demons once and for all.

Do you have any other tips for managing email? Let us know in the comments below!

Email can be a great tool, and email can be a tool for procrastination or overwhelm. Top 10 Email Habits that Everyone Should Have

Featured photo credit: Old Mailboxes in west United Statesvia Shutterstock

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