How Tos + DIY

How To Save Time on Your Email + My Inbox Process

February 4, 2015

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I always hear from people who are overwhelmed by their inbox and drowning in email. Here’s my process for saving time in my Inbox everyday.

Email is kind of amazing and kind of terrifying, isn’t it? Practically anyone can find their way into your Inbox these days. And the range from total spam to fairly important is huge. Email, however, is not your last point of contact. If you just stopped checking your email you would probably miss a few important things, but worst case you might receive a phone call or just miss some opportunities. However, you could probably never check your email again and life would carry on (a little less conveniently).

During my year of travel in 2008, I sometimes went a month without checking my email. Life continued. In this post, I’m going to show you my daily process for saving time on my email, including a few of my favorite things about new Inbox by Google (app and website).

Effectively managing my email has always come down to having a process, cutting out the things that aren’t essential from time to time, and then sticking with the process. Every couple years, Gmail changes something or a new and flashy app comes along that tempts me to update my process. The last time I wrote about my Gmail process over on my business blog was when the new tabbed Inbox was rolled out. Now that is available, I’ve updated my process and here’s how you can automate your email as much as possible…

Step 1: Hello Inbox – take a look around

When I first got the invite to Inbox, and downloaded the app, I found the concept of marking things as “Done” confusing — which I didn’t realize at the time was the exact same thing as “Archiving” in regular Gmail. After accidentally marking things I needed as done and snoozing some things to who knows where, I put it aside, with the aim to revisit it another time. A couple weeks later, I revisited Inbox, but on my computer instead of the iPhone app. This is truly the easiest way to start. It’s much easier to understand all moving pieces and you can even have Inbox and Inbox Navold Gmail open in two different screens if you really want to see what’s going on.

First up, all your email is front and center. You can hide/unhide the navigation to the left, which includes: Inbox (home), Snoozed, Done, Drafts, Sent, Reminders, Trash, Spam, Bundled Categories (Travel, Finances etc), your old Labels from regular Gmail, and very barebones Settings. The chat it hiding up at the top right — perfect for actually getting things done in your email instead of dodging chat windows. You will spend 95% of your time in the actual Inbox!

Step 2: Done = Archived. Go archive everything you don’t need anymore in regular Gmail

One thing Inbox fails to communicate is that you really need to clear out those old messages for the UI of Inbox to make much sense. Head back to the regular and archive things you don’t need. This will make using Inbox way easier. Otherwise, you will be presented with a never ending “more” screen of emails since the dawn of time (or 2006 whichever came first).

Remember, you can click the “Select All” button and an option will come up for “Select all 4,000,000 conversations” etc. Then you can just deselect a few things as needed and mark the rest as archived. Previously, my email process oriented around a Getting things Done (GTD) system: things that were read = they were finished, things that needed attention again were either labeled as “Waiting For” or Follow Up”, and things that were unread were untouched. My new system is all about the “Done” / Archived.

Jumping back to you should see far fewer emails. The “Done” area, find it on the left navigation, is where you can go find something that you accidentally marked as “Done”. It’s like the old “All Mail” area in Gmail.

Step 3: “Pin” things you need to follow up on

Inbox pinnedMy old process was about labeling things as “Followup” if I needed to come back to it. Now you can just quickly hit the “Pin” button in an easy click. And there’s a “Pinned” toggle switch up top right to show you all your pinned stuff.

One of the bonuses of pinning things is that when you click the pin button an optional “Remember to” text box appears. Super helpful for keeping notes all together and not having scattered reminders for emails later.

Step 4: Snoozed = “Waiting For” or “Reminder me later”

Snoozed InboxSnoozed is my new “Waiting For” area. If I need to followup on something it gets pinned, but if I have followed up or I’m just waiting on something, I snooze it. You can snooze things until… later today, tomorrow, next week, someday, or specific time/date, and even a place!

Then, the items you have snoozed will just automatically pop back into the main Inbox area at the appropriate day/time. Or you can go see what’s in the Snoozed area any time in the left navigation.

Step 5: Reminders

Remember toAnother great thing about Reminders is that you don’t have to have a reminder only attached to an email. You can just create a little reminder, like a task, by clicking the red + sign and selecting the blue circle/string finger icon. You can also create recurring reminders. Oh boy!

Note: A feature that would be great that Inbox hasn’t added yet is a better way of sorting your reminder items. They’re currently just listed based on when you added them, versus by due date etc. Hopefully this is something they’ll take care of at some point. You also can’t archive them. Lame!

Step 6: Bundles are like categories

One of the great things about Inbox is all the Bundle categories. It works the same way as the tabbed inbox works in old Gmail. But instead of just Social, Primary, Promotions etc. you’ll see the extra categories that were a big missing piece for me – Travel, Finances etc.

With your bundles, you can say to show the bundle in the Inbox whenever things arrive or once a day (7am) or once a week (Monday 7am). Meaning, “just don’t show me this crap until 7a everyday.” This is a great option for Promotions/Shopping type stuff that is nice to have if you want to review or look at it every couple days, but you don’t want it occupying the same amount of space as a higher priority category takes. Also a great way to just scan down the list and with one click (on the bundle) mark as done to clear it all away – the “Sweep” option.

Promos - Inbox

Step 7: Figure out your process

When you’ve cleared your Inbox, there’s a sunny surprise waiting for you.  :)

Inbox sunny day

I try to clear my Inbox every day. Here’s how:

  • Every morning, I open Inbox to an already pretty organized list. Anything that looks higher priority – work request, something personal, etc. I click the Pin button – sometimes without even reading or opening yet.
  • Next, I click the “checkmark” Sweep option on all the bundled categories that aren’t required reading (Promotions), often clicking on the header to expand the bundle and then scanning down to quickly check for anything miscategorized (now that I’ve been using Inbox for a month or two things are rarely miscategorized). I’ll pin or snooze anything that I want to come back to (usually without even opening the email) and sweep away (they go into the “Done” area) the rest.
  • I’m now left with just a few important or potentially important things in my Inbox. I open and deal with anything that is quick (needs a simple reply, just needs to be read etc). If I send a reply, but something bad will happen if they never reply back, I’ll mark it as snoozed so I remember to circle back around in case they drop the ball.
  • For anything that will take a bigger chunk of time to deal with that needs to happen today, I’ll leave it as pinned in my Inbox. Or I’ll begin a reply and leave it in draft if there are some things that immediately come to mind and take a couple minutes to write down. For anything that will take a bigger chunk of time to deal with that can be handled later, I’ll snooze it to the next day or whenever.
  • My snoozing rule of thumb is: personal/fun – snooze until 7pm, biz/work – snooze until 7am. Those times generally align with what time I’m in biz/personal mode anyway. I try to take care of boring things on Mondays – and batch as much as possible – collecting metrics, money checkin (Wave/Mint), invoice updates etc. Although actual invoicing happens whenever things are ready (hello, money).
  • Remember, settings that you have in old Gmail will still apply here – your filters and vacation autoresponders etc. (auto-signatures won’t work). Additionally, canned responses don’t work with Inbox. I use canned response templates a lot in my business, so I’ll jump over to the old Gmail to handle my pinned items if I need a quick canned response template. Not perfect, so hopefully Inbox adds canned response options soon.
  • After my morning email check – usually sometime around 7 or 9am, I try to stay out of there so I’m not just clicking “done”, “done”, “done” on anything that pops in. Then I come back around lunchtime and around 2 or 3pm. After that, I will usually use Inbox a few times throughout the evening, but on the iPhone app. This is when I handle personal followups and emails or reading. I could probably check it less often during the day and nothing bad would happen.

And there you have it. I’m definitely saving a bit more time with the new Inbox. My overall process hasn’t changed drastically, but the UX of Inbox is better and easier.

Have you tried Inbox yet? Any tips to add?