Inbox zero is a fantastical goal; a mythical mirage that is desired by many but acheived by few. After nearly two decades of battling, and losing, to my inbox I almost admitted defeat. I simply allowed the “unread” number to creep up into double digits while the “read” emails stored in inbox soared into triple digits.
But then two years ago I found Boomerrang, which has become my secret to inbox victory.
Email As Water Metaphor
I’m the type of person that is easily persuaded to check my email constantly throughout the day. Responding to an email makes me feel productive, when in reality it was the busywork of moving some (virtual) pieces of paper around. In my quest to avoid the stressful feelings associated with an overflowing inbox, I invested hours every day trying to keep my inbox clean and tidy. Many times, this would overflow into the night while I lay in bed. I would even start my days responding to emails, often while still in bed, trying to “get ahead” of the mid-morning email surge.
That’s when I realized that email behaves like water. When you make space, more will flow in. Some books on email management state you should respond to emails ASAP but this is terrible advice! The faster you respond to emails, the faster people will respond to your emails, often resulting in a type of ping-pong instant chat via email. And the more you process emails, the more emails you will receive as others realize this is the most effective way to get your attention.
But if you invest all your time doing the busywork of responding to and processing emails, when do you have time to focus on actual productive work?
My Email Secret Weapon: Boomerrang
How do you stop an inbox flooding with emails? Simple: you block the flow of emails.
- Start your day first attending to productive tasks instead of the busywork of answering emails. Consider this a type of “pay yourself first” philsophy; invest first in your needs & committments before you attend to the new needs of others.
- Instead of answering emails immediately upon arrival, only reply to emails during specific, time-limited sessions. Sure, this means you won’t get through all your emails, but email etiquette allows for at least 24 hours for a reply. If this lack of instant response causes you stress, send a quick reply that you have received the email and when you expect to be able to reply.
- Control the flow into your inbox. Use Boomerrang’s Inbox Pause add-on module to control how often emails are allowed into your inbox. Personally, I only allow my inbox to receive emails at 10am and 3pm. The morning check is so that I can first attend to my day’s top priority; the afternoon check to allow me some time to process any remaining emails before I go home for the day.
- Pace my reply. Boomerrang enables me to schedule my emails to go out early the next morning or another time I specify. Because of the delay in response, emails don’t devolve into ping-pong email chats. Also, the scheduled delivery ensures my emails aren’t time-stamped with my sometimes odd hours of reply.
- Automatic email reminders. Boomerrang allows me to email myself reminders. Rather than trying to remember to follow-up with a prospect or client in 1 week, I can have the email added back to my inbox. What’s more, I can limit the “boomerrang” emails to occur only when the recipient doesn’t reply.
- Schedule important emails in advance. With Boomerrang scheduling birthday emails in batches just got that much easier!
I can’t recommend Boomerrang for email management enough for both Gmail and Outlook. There is a free version, which includes up to 10 boomerrangs/month. If you want more, the current listed prices are $5/mo for personal Gmail, $15/mo for Google Apps (gApps), and $30/one-time for Outlook.