managing your inbox

Managing Your Inbox With These 5 Steps


Managing your email inbox means more than simply staying on top of things. With your inbox clutter-free and in control, you and your team will enjoy greater productivity and clarity at work. It might take you a while to get on top of your inbox and bring your emails down to a level that you’re personally happy with. Along the way, developing more productive habits for managing your inbox is the essential step to building sustainable, healthy email habits. 

It’s entirely normal to feel overwhelmed when you open your inbox each day. People spend about 28% of their workweek dealing with emails, which equates to about 13hrs of low level, reactive work that rarely results in progress. Only 38% of the emails in the average inbox are important and relevant to your core business. This means the rest of all that administrative bulk is nothing more than noisy junk that needs to be cleared efficiently before you drown in the quicksand. That feeling is not imaginary. Research has proven that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover from an email interruption, which erodes away your peace and sense of control in your work.   

Let’s simplify this for you by setting up a simple system to respond more decisively to all those messages. The next time you open your inbox, choose which of these five categories apply to each unopened email and respond accordingly. 


Is this email essentially junk that you simply don’t need or want to read? This is an easy decision to make: Delete that email forever! 

You’re best also to decide this point if you ever want to receive this email again from this sender. If not, take 10 seconds to unsubscribe from this sender, or create a filter to automatically delete the email the next time it hits your inbox.

managing your inbox


There will be emails that need to be dealt with, but not by you. Create a simple process to put that email on someone else’s desk. You could forward the email to a team member with a quick message to instruct them on how you want the matter handled. Or, if you’re comfortable with giving someone else access to your inbox, you could create a folder for them inside your email account. Then when they log in they can head straight for the folder with their name on it and get busy dealing with the messages you saved inside. Mastering the fine art of delegation is simple with more tips here.


Reducing the feelings of desperate urgency that can arise when emails come in is an essential benefit of managing your inbox well. When emails come in they reflect the sender’s agenda, which does not always align with your own. Set up ways to deal with matters when it suits you. You might ‘star’ emails that you plan to deal with later at a set time each week, or put them in their own ‘Later’ folder to be opened at a scheduled time that fits with your schedule. 


Many emails in your inbox can be cleared with a simple, quick reply. Bounce emails back to the sender with a super short response which keeps things moving and off your desk like a hot potato. Using templates if you can will make this process even quicker for you and your team. 

Keeping these emails short and sweet is key. Don’t be drawn into lengthy, unnecessary stretches of dialogue when replying to emails. The less time you spend typing, the faster you can move on to more important things in your day.

You might also want to think about including a message to explain your preference for brief messages in your email footer. If your core values permit this approach, you can write up a friendly statement like this for your email footer:

Thanks for your email. You might notice my reply is short and sweet. We do this on purpose. It’s not that your message is unimportant. It’s that we just love to keep things moving here at [BUSINESS NAME]. Spending less time in our emails is a big part of that. We appreciate doing business with you and hope you understand. 


The last category of emails is the most important for you to work with. These are the ones that require you to take substantial action. They will be the emails related to ongoing projects, client work, supplier arrangements, business partnerships or other matters central to your business growth. Processing all your other emails quickly and efficiently will give you the time and headspace you need to do this ‘real work’ hidden away inside your inbox. 

Successfully managing your email inbox is a journey, rather than a destination. Be patient with yourself as you get busy clearing the bulk of your email overload. Be realistic about what you can actually achieve. Avoid falling onto the trendy trap of shooting for Inbox Zero. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

email overload can be a thing of the past

The Myth Of Inbox Zero


Successful inbox management in business is a modern-day miracle! Gobal business continuing keeps on accelerating its online migration at a rate of knots. So this has left many owners with inbox overload. I struggle to cope with the thought of hundreds of emails sitting there stressing you out. It is completely unfathomable for me to imagine how you could sleep at night with upwards of five, six, ten, twenty thousand emails choking up your inbox. It almost makes me break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. 

Setting a standard you’re happy with, then diligently working that standard as a routine part of your workday is fundamental to your effective business leadership. At Operation Verve, we have a rule of no more than 30 emails being allowed to occupy our inboxes. Implementing this limit in your business will help you too. It keeps your current jobs front of mind without getting lost in the backlog of other messages hiding what’s really important.

The idea of “Inbox Zero” is a trendy ideal you might fantasize about as an owner. If this utopian approach is on your business wishlist, you’re going to love the tips coming up in my next article. Stay tuned! 

However, your inbox management probably falls waaaaay short of this unrealistic goal. There are several reasons to let yourself off the hook by questioning the Inbox Zero ideal:

It’s a misunderstood concept

Inbox Zero is a management concept developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann. The theory aims to allow people to clear their inbox entirely. In its original conception, the Zero in this idea never referred to the number of messages that should be left in an inbox. Instead, it’s about the “amount of time an employee’s brain is in his or her box.” This notable difference casts doubt over the literal way people interpret the Inbox Zero concept. 

successful inbox management is easier than inbox zero

“Good order is the foundation of all things.” Edmund Burke

Unrealistic goals can be detrimental 

To strive for a goal and never achieve it undermines your confidence, motivation and momentum. It’s the depressing feeling of not losing the weight. Blowing the budget.  Staring at the book on your bedside table for a month. When you set a goal and come up short, you risk receiving the destructive message that you’re not capable of success. Chasing the ideal of literally no emails in your inbox can be a pipe dream. You might be setting yourself up for an inevitable failure that was never realistic or valuable in the first place. Successful inbox management for you is about setting goals you can sustainably achieve for the long term.

Out of sight equals out of mind

As a successful business leader, you have lots to manage at once. When you have multiple pots on the boil at any one time, it’s important to keep those pots in plain view. The last thing you need is to be lured into a false sense of security. Avoid the risk of an empty inbox making things look complete in your business. If there are jobs to do in your inbox, keep them where you can see them. Otherwise you risk forgetting important items, or keeping people waiting with projects that need to be done to advance your business. 

Instead of shooting for the stars with Inbox Zero, why don’t you set more realistic aims to manage your incoming emails? This will happen by building a more sustainable system for yourself. Successful inbox management in business is just one foundational aspect of getting things pumping overall. In my next article, I will show you 5 simple steps to stay on top of the mayhem in your emails. If you set up a daily routine for working those emails you’ll find your blood pressure returning to normal as you plough through your messages. I can’t wait to share!