Becoming more efficient with email is one of those things I think many of us aim to do. After all, we spend a significant chunk of our day working out of our inboxes, don’t we?

The ironic part of is we all complain about the amount of email we have in our inbox, but yet we’re also responsible for filling up other people’s inbox.

First, when it comes to the idea of inbox zero, I see that like a dog chasing its tail: Even if you’re to reach it, what then? The tail still exists, and more email comes in.

I’m being a bit facetious of course, but if I’m honest, I don’t worry about constantly being in a state of inbox zero. If I can reach it by the end of the work day, I’m good.

So, if your an Inbox user (and I am), how can we turn this into something that helps us be a bit more efficient with email?

Getting Efficient with Email

Everything I’m about to say assumes you use GTD or something similar to triage and prioritize your tasks. This is actually why I prefer Inbox (and similar systems) over traditional email.

Google Inbox

Anyway, since Inbox is by Google, I still have to use filters to organize the email that arrives. Otherwise, it’s just chaos, right?

Here’s the thing: In Inbox, all of the things that are “labels” in Gmail are “stacks” or “bundles” in Inbox. The problem with bundles is you can’t snooze and entire bundle until a later time.

So what’s the next best thing? Making sure you’re just getting everything from the same bundle once a day.

Will this work for everyone? No way. The way you filter your email is going to be different from mine. But I tend to try to knock out email as one of the first things I do each morning.

To that end, making sure the bundles of email I get come only once a day: 7 am. Anything else that falls into that bundle during the day will just have to wait.

Efficient with Email

And anything not in a bundle, I’ll respond to, mark as done or snooze it until the appropriate date. But if there’s one piece of advice I could give as it relates to being more efficient with email when it comes to using Google Inbox, it’s to make sure you keep your bundles from coming in all day long.

Otherwise, your inbox may never be empty. And that’d be a shame.

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Join the conversation! 10 Comments

  1. And as a way to get less email, don’t respond instantly. I used to make that mistake. Then they know you’re available and it sends the signal that you’re not busy or only working on their project. It then quickly turns into an email conversation with 3, 5, 10 more emails flying in. Then you’re screwed; they expect instant responses to every message.

    I wait a few hours to respond. My clients are still happy that I replied in a timely manner but it sends a message that I’m not going to instantly reply.

    Also, I don’t respond to emails after business hours. Go ahead and reply to an email at 9pm. Then it’s over.

    • And as a way to get less email, don’t respond instantly. I used to make that mistake. Then they know you’re available and it sends the signal that you’re not busy or only working on their project. It then quickly turns into an email conversation with 3, 5, 10 more emails flying in. Then you’re screwed; they expect instant responses to every message.

      This is a mixed bag for me. I’ve tried sitting on email for a while and it sometimes still happens. On the other hand, even saying “I’ll let you know as soon as I know something” still brings emails in about “checking in to see how this is going” and so on.

      I wait a few hours to respond. My clients are still happy that I replied in a timely manner but it sends a message that I’m not going to instantly reply.

      When it comes to clients, they normally get priority, but I try to set reasonable outlines for when communication is likely to happen and how fast a turn around is.

      Also, I don’t respond to emails after business hours. Go ahead and reply to an email at 9pm. Then it’s over.

      Same. I’m normally done with email at 5pm unless it’s a super red flag, but even then I try to structure my work so it’s doesn’t lead to those situations.

  2. So as not to appear like I’m touting a particular product, I use a popular project management site. All of my clients know that they must communicate with me via that site.

    That makes it extremely easy for me to manage email – cause it’s not really email. They post comments/changes, etc…about their project. So if I have 5 projects going, I don’t have to try to scroll through a ton of emails. I just punch into a particular project and there’s the entire conversation. I can also bring other people in and they can read the entire discussion to get caught up.

    I ditched using email to communicate over 2 years ago.

    Also, if I get hit by a bus, someone can easily come in to help without having to read 300 emails from 15 different clients.

  3. I haven’t switched to Inbox yet because I didn’t immediately see how my workflow would translate. I use GMail’s priority inbox feature, which was perhaps the precursor to bundles. I’ve also set up filters so regular mailings I know don’t need a response skip the inbox. Everything that still shows up in the “unread” section I quickly sort: if it requires a response I star it, if not I label it. That’s the crucial part for me, and the part I didn’t immediately see a way to reproduce in Inbox. Once that is done, I can deal with the starred emails as a “to do” list, and the rest at my leisure.

    • I use the same set up as you, Dylan. But with an added bonus: I have been a heavy Remember the Milk user for many years and their Gmail extension is indispensable. Any message which I star is immediately added to my to do list for the day. That list also lives on my desktop, on my phone, and is of course in my inbox. I love it.

  4. Everyone will use a system that’s best for them. Mine’s worked fine a few years and counting: I go to sleep every night with nothing in the inbox. Either I replied to messages, deleted them, or moved pending actions into a gmail “to do” label. Out of the inbox itself.

    This way, I always know whenever I check messages in the morning they’re new.

    • Everyone will use a system that’s best for them.

      Exactly! I’m with you.

    • Everyone will use a system that’s best for them

      Yep. I’d rarely dissuade someone from using what works for them! I just offer what works for me. If it works for you, cool; if not, no biggie :).

      This way, I always know whenever I check messages in the morning they’re new.

      Exactly. It sounds like we aim for similar goals but different approaches.

  5. Is that Boxy? What do you use on your desktop, Tom?

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