Here are some tips for decluttering your inbox by applying an inbox minimalism approach.
These advice come from my personal experience. I needed a cleaner interface for my email inbox, while at the same time I needed to know my work progress (what emails are pending a reply, which are done, etc.) at a glance.
I loathe chaos in my work environment. I need things to be “just right” for me to work at a sustained productive level.
I need lots of light, few objects as possible on my desk and silence from the outside world.
The same needs to happen on my display too.
I am using Gmail as my email client. I will assume your email client (if different) will have similar functions and options I’ll be describing.
I prefer a solid white background, no textures. The buttons and elements in the theme should also be light and subtle. No need for the eye to run across the screen distracted by saturated colors or complex shapes.
Here is my inbox in the app:
And on the desktop:
I want to have no emails in my inbox, that is my goal. That doesn’t mean though that I delete everything or I mark “as read” and then archive them 🙂 I organise my email by applying a system.
When I receive a new email, I do the following:
- Can I postpone a reply? Is it urgent or can I deal with this later? Gmail has a great “snooze” function. If you can resolve it later on, just pick a day and hour and hit snooze. That email will disappear from the inbox (for now) and you can deal with other stuff. That email will reappear in your inbox at the scheduled date.
- Is this email part of a project I’m working on? If so, then apply a label to it. This will make organizing email so much better. More on this later on.
- Is this email important / urgent but you already have other emails with this status? Apply a star to it. If I have three read emails in my inbox (but not resolved) and one of them has a yellow star, then the next time I login, the stared one has priority. Pro tip: in Gmail you can have multiple colors for your stars, check the settings to define them. For example red stars are more important then yellow stars – but you can make your own color legend.
- You have replied to an email and no longer need it? Archive it. Out of sight, out of mind.
- You have received an email from a newsletter but you are no longer interested in that info? Unsubscribe from that newsletter now. The less email you receive, the easiest and fast it is to organize your inbox in the future.
- Are you receiving emails from a service provider with info that you want to keep, but it takes too long to select everyone and then move it to a specific place? Use filters. These are rules that you create manually, and you tell Gmail what to do when a new email matches your filter. For example, you can create a filter that automatically marks “as read” emails from an address, archives it, or applies a label to it. This happens in the background without you even noticing – and most importantly, without being interrupted.
- Have an “out of office” message ready. You can save an “away” message that will be automatically sent to anyone who messages you while you are on vacation or offline for a while.
You can think of labels as folders. This way you can better organize you emails. No need to do a full search for a specific term or address and then swift through the results, if you already know everything related to a project is stored in a ‘folder’.
You can even color-code your labels, so you can find them quickly, or maybe assign a priority to the projects by using this color option (for example, gray labels are old projects, green labels are active ones).
Also, another cool thing about Gmail’s labels is that it shows you have many unread emails are in that ‘folder’. So you can have your inbox empty, but still know how many unread emails you have.
Maybe one of the most powerful tool in your email client, the option to create filters, and a quick path towards your inbox minimalism.
These are ‘rules’ that run automatically when new emails arrive in your inbox. You start by creating a condition (see image above) and then you move to actions – what happens when the conditions are met.
I hope this information about inbox minimalism helps you with your inbox organizing. This is a post in a series about minimalism, follow my blog for more!