By Deanna deBara

You get to work, open your inbox, and am immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of emails you need to sort through. And when you do sort through them, you find that 99 percent are marketing emails from a company you don’t even remember buying from—or, even worse, full-on spam messages.

Or maybe you don’t even open your inbox; the notification on your phone showing you have 536 unread messages deters you from even trying to manage your emails.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re probably dealing with email overload—and if you don’t get it under control, it can have a seriously negative impact on your work and your well-being.

But what, exactly, is email overload? Why is keeping it at bay so important? And, more importantly, how can you take back control of your inbox—and kick email overload to the curb for good?

What is email overload—and why is it important to keep it at bay?

First things first. Before we jump into how to keep email overload at bay, let’s quickly cover what email overload is—and why you want to avoid it at all costs.

Email overload happens when your email cadence is no longer under your control; every day, your inbox is flooded with more messages than one person (or even a team of people!) could ever possibly read. Depending on the level of email overload, that number can easily climb into the hundreds—or even the thousands.

But email overload goes beyond the volume of messages you receive a day. When you’re dealing with email overload, not only is your inbox full of emails, but it’s full of emails that you don’t want or need to read (like marketing emails or straight up spam).

Sound overwhelming? Well, that’s because it is—and that’s not the only danger of email overload. Email overload can lead to a host of negative outcomes, including:

  • Decreased productivity. If you’re spending hours every day trying to deal with email overload, that’s hours you don’t have to focus on more meaningful, important work—which means your productivity will take a major hit.
  • Missing important emails… If your inbox gets hundreds of emails each day—many of which are unnecessary and/or unimportant—there’s a huge risk of emails that actually matter getting lost in the shuffle.
  • …or difficulty finding emails when you need them. Speaking of getting lost in the shuffle, a too-full inbox can also make it hard to search for existing emails—and to find the email you’re looking for when you need it.
  • Higher risk of burnout. When work-related stress gets too high, it can put you at a greater risk of burnout, which has a host of negative side effects (including mental and physical exhaustion and feeling disengaged from work). And when you’re completely overwhelmed by your inbox, that can increase your stress—and put you on the fast track to burnout.

Clearly, keeping email overload at bay is a must. But how, exactly, do you do that?

What to do if your inbox is overwhelming…

If your inbox is already in full on “email overload” mode, it’s time for some damage control.

There are a few different strategies you can use to get your inbox back under control, including:

Delete, delete, delete. 

One of the key elements of email overload is a full inbox. So, the first step to getting your inbox under control? Making your inbox less full—or, in other words, deleting all those unnecessary, unwanted, and unread emails. 

Use your inbox’s sorting tool to sort your emails by sender; then, delete all the emails that you don’t want or need (for example, marketing emails from companies you’re no longer interested in or outdated emails from a colleague that’s no longer with your organization).

Unsubscribe to emails you don’t want or need. 

You can (and should!) delete all the marketing emails and newsletters you don’t want or need. But until you unsubscribe from those emails, they’re going to keep coming (and keep cluttering up your inbox).

If you don’t have too many emails to unsubscribe to, you could do it manually—but if there’s more than a few, an unsubscribe tool like unroll.me can help speed up the process and unsubscribe you from multiple email lists at once.

Organize remaining emails. 

After you’ve deleted any unwanted or unnecessary messages and unsubscribed to any marketing emails or newsletters that have been taking up space in your inbox, all you should be left with are the important emails you want to keep.

But that doesn’t mean you should just leave all those emails in your inbox. If you really want to get your inbox under control, you need a system to organize those emails.

Create folders to sort your remaining emails (for example, you might have a folder for team emails, a folder for project-related messages, or a folder for personal emails). Sort your emails into the appropriate folders—and only leave urgent messages and/or messages that need a response directly in your inbox. That way, when you log into your email, all you’ll see are the emails that need your immediate attention—and if you need to find a specific email (like an email from your boss or an email on project deliverables), you’ll know where to find them.

…and how to prevent email overload in the future

Once you’ve gotten your inbox back under control, you’ll want to keep it that way. So, how can you prevent your inbox from veering back into “email overload” territory?

Fight the urge to subscribe. 

You just spent a good chunk of time unsubscribing from all the emails that have been cluttering up your inbox. But you subscribed to those emails for a reason—for example, to snag a discount or get alerted to a new product launch.

So, if you want to keep your inbox manageable, organized, and uncluttered? Moving forward, you’re going to have to fight the urge to subscribe—and make sure you’re only subscribing to emails you actually want to receive.

Before you subscribe to an email list or newsletter, pause and consider whether it’s something you want or need in your inbox. For example, if you’re signing up for an email newsletter because it’s written by an entrepreneur you admire—and you believe the insights within that newsletter will better your life—that’s a solid reason to subscribe. But if you’re just signing up to get a 10 percent off coupon for a product you’ll never buy again? The coupon probably isn’t worth the hundreds of marketing emails you’ll receive from that company in the coming months—so you’ll want to think twice before sharing your email.

Deal with your email on a regular basis.

Email overload doesn’t happen overnight; it happens when you let emails flood into your inbox for days, weeks, and months—until all of a sudden, there’s just too many to handle.

So, a key to preventing email overload? Deal with your email on a regular basis.

Every day, take a few minutes to sort your emails and delete any unnecessary or unwanted messages. Carving out a few minutes every day to deal with your email will help keep your inbox manageable—and prevent you from having to spend hours dealing with it at some point in the future.

Invest in the right tools.

Does keeping email overload at bay take work? Yes. But with the right tools, that work can be a lot easier.

SaneBox is an email management tool that leverages artificial intelligence automatically to filter and organize your email. With SaneBox, all those unimportant, unwanted, and unnecessary emails will immediately be filtered out of your inbox—leaving just the urgent emails that need your immediate attention. SaneBox also allows you to create custom folders for your most common and important messages—and then automatically filters them into those folders so they’re there when you need them.

In addition to helping you get your inbox under control—and keep email overload at bay—SaneBox has a host of features that make email easier, from a “do not disturb” option that allows you to temporarily disable email notifications while you’re focusing on work to reminders that will alert you when it’s time to follow up on an email.

Ready to get your inbox under control—and make email overload a thing of the past? Sign up for your free SaneBox trial today!

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