8 Ways to Corral Your Email (One Option: Declare ‘Bankruptcy’)

Don’t let emails overwhelm you. These tips will help you empty your overflowing inbox and keep it from filling up again.

Email is alive and well — indeed, thriving like a deadly virus — and continuing to clog our inboxes long after its death knell was sounded earlier this century.

An estimated 196.4 billion emails are sent and received daily worldwide, and some days you may feel they are all beckoning in your inbox.

More than 6 in 10 are business emails, says The Radicati Marketing Group, a California-based technology market research firm. It predicts 7 percent growth in business emails over the next two years. Consumer emails, still running about 80 billion a day, will drop 3 to 4 percent a year, Radicati estimates.

With the spread of texting, tweeting and Facebook status updating, The Wall Street Journal in 2009 predicted email’s demise, and Mark Zuckerberg in 2011 called email dead when he announced Facebook messaging.

While we’re waiting for those predictions to come true, we’re struggling to get our inboxes close to zero. Some digital analysts estimate we spend as much as a third of our workdays processing emails – and still those inboxes are filled pretty deep with read and unread messages.

Even on the go, we check email. Just over half of all emails are opened on a smartphone or tablet, Experian, the credit report agency, said last fall.

Gmail and Yahoo Mail apps are among the top 25 mobile apps, as rated by Comscore. Together, the two apps had close to 78 million unique visitors in June 2014, when email apps remained one of the top 10 ways people in age groups 25 and up spent time on mobile apps, Comscore reported. People ages 18-24 bucked the trend.

Here are techniques you can try to take charge of email, the messages invented by programmer Ray Tomlinson back in 1971.

email inbox photoPhoto (cc) by zone41

1. Don’t be alert

Turn off the dings and smartphone vibrations alerting you to email arrivals, advises productivity expert Jared Goralnick. They disrupt your focus and make it harder to get back to work after you check out the message that just arrived.

“Otherwise you’re going to spend your whole day constantly reactive to what other people need, as opposed to being focused on what you really want to be doing today,” he says. Email prioritizes by time, while a proper task list is prioritized by you.

2. Curb the arrivals

We often click on email offers when we sign up to access websites or buy products. Unsubscribe from the ones you no longer want, and you’ll be able to cut down your inbox clutter. Find your subscriptions by searching your inbox for the term “unsubscribe.” You’ll be able to see which are keepers and which you no longer want to receive.

Also, you can set Facebook, Twitter and your other social media accounts to limit what they send you, such as notifications about comments on status updates or who retweeted you.

3. Limit looking

Set two times a day, such as morning and afternoon, to pore over the average 300 emails a day that pour in, many irrelevant or annoying. Some set 5 minutes per hour. Either way limits the time you devote to email, but whichever way you go, don’t peek in between. Close the email program so it won’t distract you.

Laura Vanderkam, author of time management and productivity books, including “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time,” being published in June, said she got more done in the morning if she waited until 10:30 a.m. for her first of two daily looks.

“I wrote and edited whole chapters. I would have written those chapters anyway eventually, but they would have taken a lot longer,” Vanderkam wrote for Fast Company.

“If you only check email twice a day, you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one message you actually did want to read each time.”

4. Batch it up

Set aside 30-minute time batches to deal with your inbox. Batch up the mail that’s important to be answered immediately and reply to it. Kill what’s not relevant and set aside the emails that you know you want to give more time to later. Get back to those in the next 30-minute time batch. Let your important contacts know they can call you if there’s something important that can’t wait.

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