How To Get More Done By Cleaning Up Your Inbox

Posted: November 11, 2016

According to Phil Simon’s book, Message Not Received, people who put in 50-hour work weeks often spend 15 of those hours in their inboxes. That means that we’re spending 30% of our work week reading and sending emails! Simon also predicts that, by 2017, we’ll be sending more than 130 billion business emails every day.

In the busy world of higher education marketing, it’s important for us to work efficiently and be as productive as possible. In fact, we’ve heard from many higher ed marketers that one of their biggest challenges is not having enough time or resources to get everything done. Do you think that your team spending 15 hours per week answering emails is really the BEST use of your limited time?

To help alleviate this time-scarcity issue, we’ve put together a list of tips and tools to help address the most common challenges related to managing email.

If you’re getting too much email

Unsubscribe from anything that you don’t actually read.

Be honest with yourself. You know those newsletters you receive each week with good intentions of reading them later, but then you never do. Go ahead and remove them from your inbox by unsubscribing. There’s typically an easy unsubscribe button at the bottom of most subscription based messages. is a free service that lets you mass unsubscribe from all the newsletters you don’t read. You can choose to unsubscribe from everything at once, or you can decide which newsletters you’d like to keep and which you’d like to part with. Obviously, our eduInsights newsletter will be on the list to keep.

If you can’t completely unsubscribe, filter for later.

If you really do need the information in your subscription emails, consider filtering these messages to go directly to a folder (we’ll talk more about those later). Then, block off time on your calendar to go through all of those messages at once. This prevents clutter in your inbox and keeps your day organized.

Use other platforms to decrease clutter in your Inbox.

At VisionPoint, we use Slack as our messaging application. For quick conversations and questions, messaging tools are a great option. Walking over to a co-worker’s desk and speaking with them directly will also prevent the need for an email while giving you an opportunity to stretch your legs.

For sources of information outside if your institution, leverage social media to stay up to date. For example, if there’s an email newsletter that you don’t often read, but you’re still interested in the organization’s content, try following them on Twitter instead.

If you have trouble keeping emails organized

Use folders and labels.

Email folders work just like regular file folders. They allow the user to group related information in the same place so that it’s easy to find at a later time. Most email providers also allow users to create subfolders for a more detailed storage system.

In Gmail, labels allow one message to appear in multiple folders at the same time. This is a great feature for archiving messages that cover multiple topics.

Master the inbox search.

Lots of important information gets sent via email, but we often struggle to find those messages again when the information is most needed. Although every email client structures their search a little differently, most will allow you to search using the following criteria: To, From, Includes, Subject, Has Attachment. Use as much detail as possible in your search to narrow down the results and find that missing message.

For example, you know that Cindy in Alumni Relations sent you a list of successful graduates to interview for an upcoming news story. Instead of emailing Cindy again to ask for the same information, search your inbox for emails that are to you, from Cindy and contain the words “successful, alumni and magazine.”

If you spend too much time answering emails

Keep responses as concise as possible.

A survey from Boomerang found that emails between 50 and 125 words have the best response rates. What was even more surprising to us, was that emails written at a third-grade reading level actually have the highest response rates.

We know that not all emails can be short and simple. However, it’s important that we always strive to remove excess information to ensure that our emails are as digestible as possible. Consider using web writing best practices such as bullets, subheadings and bold text to emphasize the most important points in your message.

Use templates whenever possible.

When you have to send several of the same types of email, use templates to quickly draft messages and ensure that you’re not forgetting anything. Of course, you should always double check your templates to make sure that you’ve included all of the necessary information before sending.

Even if you don’t have a template, you can leverage a past email and make small revisions to tailor it to a new situation. Your newfound Search skills will really come in handy here!

If you are frequently distracted by your inbox

Turn off notifications.

If you have email notifications (on your desktop or your phone) you will be distracted from your current task every time a new message comes in. Turn off notifications and set aside blocks of time (3 per day is recommended) each day to do nothing but check and respond to emails. Remember, you don’t have to respond to everything as soon as it comes in.

Leverage your to-do list.

We often get messages that require substantial effort of our part in order to respond appropriately. In most cases, that’s effort that we hadn’t planned on. If a response will take you more than 5 minutes, add it as a task on your to-do list so that you can plan time to respond accordingly.

Remember, your inbox is NOT your to-do list.

We’re not claiming to be email experts. The tips above are based on research and our collective experience drafting, sending, receiving and categorizing emails every day. If you have other suggestions, ideas or insights on how to best manage a chaotic inbox, please feel free to leave a comment below. We’d love to hear what’s working and learn new ways to improve.