How To Actually Stay On Top Of Your Inbox

Ah, the dreaded email inbox. Everyone has experienced the horror of having an avalanched email come morning at least once, and so can understand the anxiety of seeing more than 20 messages cluttering up your page. But there are ways to stay on top of your inbox, and none of them have to do with unplugging your laptop and waving a white flag in defeat.

Whether you're a chronic email procrastinator or just came into the office after a long weekend, you'll understand how quickly messages can clog up your workday. But how do you sift through what's important and what's low priority when you have literally hundreds of threads to go through? It's time to take control of your inbox, and it starts with you getting organized. From allocating designated email-checking times to downloading clever apps, there are easy and completely painless ways to clean up your space and get back on the ball when it comes to firing off answers. And the more organized you become, the less likely you'll collapse back into the digital anarchy you once upheld. Here are 11 ways to get control of your inbox — it's time to live a stress free work life that doesn't revolve around excusing yourself with, "Oh... it must have gone to spam."

1. Create Folders

When your inbox is avalanched with messages, your precious time gets dragged into it like quicksand. In order to stay on top of the constant stream of messages, create folders. "The key to managing your inbox — whether it’s your work email or your personal — is organization. Create folders and immediately put emails into their respective folders upon responding," Vicki Salemi, Career Expert for Monster, shares in an email interview with Bustle. Examples of such folders could be "Respond in an Hour," "Urgent," "Today's Tasks," or even "Career Building Emails." That way you have an idea as to deadlines for each email, as well as how important they are.

2. Leave Yourself Reminders To Send Particular Emails

If you're networking, job hunting, or finishing projects at work, chances are you're in the middle of hundreds of different conversations. In order to stay on top of when certain emails need to go out or when follow-ups are necessary, schedule reminders in order to stay on schedule. Salemi suggests using Google Calendar as a reminder tool, offering, "Create a meeting invite on your Calendar — okay it’s more like a note but still — to remind yourself to follow up with that person at a specific time." Another great tip would be to create task alarms on your phone, since the device is usually by your side anyway.

3. Answer The Tough Email First

That's right, swallow the frog. You'll do way more good than bad if you just zero in on the hardest email of the morning and answer it straight off the bat. "I usually end up NOT getting to the tough one later, and then putting it off for longer than it needs. Meanwhile it's on my mind and distracting me from my other work," lifestyle blogger Emma Chapman from successful lifestyle and DIY blog A Beautiful Mess advised. If that tough email sits in your inbox, you feel less and less inclined to tackle the rest of your messages because you know you'll eventually have to get to it. So take it off the roster immediately and stop the procrastination.

4. Don't Check It Constantly

Rather than checking on your inbox multiple times a day, Salemi recommends blocking off a specific hour to tackle it instead. "If you’re checking emails constantly, you’re letting your inbox manage you instead of the other way around. You may be of the philosophy of dealing with emails individually as they arrive, but it’s actually more productive if you’re going to a meeting to not be concerned about your inbox and focus on the meeting instead." Another bonus: If you leave your inbox-answering to specific hours, then you'll be able to put yourself in the zone and will become less likely to drop the ball on any urgent messages or outstanding threads.

5. Create Email Templates

No matter what profession you work in, there are certain questions you get asked over and over again. In order to cut down on time, create templates for common scenarios and inquiries. "Create a template answer that you can quickly copy and paste, and then maybe just customize a little to make it feel more authentic before you hit send. This can save you SO much time," Chapman agreed. Why reinvent the wheel every time, right?

6. Create An Emailing Schedule

In order to not let your inbox landslide on you, put yourself on an email-answering schedule. "This could include checking your inbox first thing in the morning, mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon and towards the end of the day. By batching your activities, you’ll be able to stay immersed in what you’re doing and filter through what you simply need to know versus actionable items that actually require responding," Salemi advises. Pick a specific part of the day and train yourself to get the inbox to zero during it.

7. Do An "Unsubscribe" Cleanse

Do you get an onslaught of store coupons you never, ever open? Are you on a newsletter list you're no longer interested in? Take an afternoon once every quarter to go on an unsubscribe purge in order to save yourself from unnecessary messages. "It will only take a few seconds and will save you time as you won't have to receive those emails any longer. You can always sign up again if you find that you want back in," Chapman advised.

8. Use The Tool "Boomerang"

Boomerang is an email tool that not only lets you schedule when to send drafted emails, but also throws up selected emails to the top of your inbox when you need them. In other words, it's a godsend. "This means, instead of leaving things to clutter your inbox until it’s the right time to deal with them — or having to search through your mail when you need a piece of information — just schedule it to arrive at the top of your inbox exactly when you need it top of mind," business writer Erin Greenawald from career development site The Muse explained. That means you can schedule an email to pop back on top of your inbox in an hour when you have some time to answer it, or next week when you need that information before heading into a meeting.

9. Use TextExpander

While having email templates is a brilliant idea when it comes to getting your inbox down to zero, having a bunch of templates stockpiled can get a little messy and overwhelming, too. A quick workaround that conundrum is to use apps like TextExpander that pull up templates for you when you type in one short phrase into the body of an email. "Using these apps, you can program a short phrase to automatically fill in a large amount of text, for example, typing 'queryshipping' would automatically 'expand' into your full shipping FAQs," entrepreneur Ed Molyneux shared with business development site Business Advice. It'll save you loads of time.

10. Get Specific With Your Subject Lines

When you're sending out an email to someone, make sure you write a specific subject line so it saves you time later down the road. "This will make it much easier to find the email you’re looking for in your folder later on and help it stand out from the crowd, especially if you’re searching on a time crunch," business writer Deborah Sweeney from Forbes pointed out. Future you will thank you.

11. Send Concise Emails To Begin With

A quick way to cut down emails in your inbox is to nix any future back-and-forth. And the way to do that is to make your original email specific and concise. "Spend less time on email and more time working by practicing good email habits: like clarity, concision, making it actionable, and relevance. The less time you spend communicating simple ideas, the less time you'll spend sifting through your inbox," lifestyle writer Whitson Gordon at Lifehacker clarified. It's better to send one long email than 20 little ones.

While it might feel like Mount Everest at times, your inbox is definitely conquerable. Keep these tips in mind and do what you thought impossible!

Images: @lichipan/Instagram