Space Invaders: How @LisaBuyer Won The Inbox War

Confession: I have a total of 188,838 emails in my Inbox with 50,595 unopened dating back to 2011.

control email overflowI’m on a mission: to create MORE space in my life for opportunity and happiness. The first step: My overflowing inbox.

There is probably nothing I look at more than my email inbox each day. More than any social network, more than my family and possibly more than the number of hours of sleep I get.

The inbox stares right back at me with the haunting number of unread emails and constant ding of notifications. My system? I skip over the newsletter, webinar, and promo emails with the intent of going back and deleting them. Which, as you can imagine, doesn’t always work out. What ends up happening is I spend the last week of December trying to delete massive amounts of emails, attachments, files and desktop clutter to start the new year fresh. Sound familiar?

Lisa buyer inbox detox

“Certain clutter in our life, including the digital clutter of an overflowing inbox,  can cause us not only to be counter-productive but can even lead to depression. We must step away sometimes and not let the clutter take over,” said Melissa Fach, online marketing expert with a master’s degree in mental health and wellness.

Email activity is a far cry from delivering happiness. Consider these stats:

  • Out of Control Messaging. Each day a typical office employee checks email 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times.
  • No Smiley Faces. Higher levels of email activities cause more negative stress and lower chances of happiness.
  • Light One Up. Smoking marijuana was more productive and less distracting than answering emails and ringing telephones all day in a certain study
  • Sleepless and Hungry. Based on my own unofficial study, I often skip lunch and go to bed later to answer emails.

iphone inbox messagesBeing in the public relations industry was bad enough before social media came along. Staying ahead of the news, always ready for a media opportunity, never missing a client’s request was always part of the program as a PR professional. Now with social media we have status updates, tags, direct messages, replies, likes, comments, and the expectancy that we’re online and smiling 24/7 to meet every time zone’s needs.

According to email marketing research, most people open an email within the first hour to 24 hours. What does that mean? It is strong evidence that the chances of reading an unopened email after 24 hours is slim to none.  

At some point you have to surrender or emails will continue to invade your space until you have no space left for yourself. That’s what I did. I decided to figure out how to create space starting with my inbox. Think about it. The inbox is the door to your digital life. The inbox is where we mostly live our work life.

I realized I needed an automated system that will do some of the heavy deleting for me. How many times have I really had to go back a year and find something? And if I did, was it worth it? Probably not because I can’t think of one good example to justify this email hoarding behavior. Which is why this year I decided I’m going to be in control of my emails and took these nine steps to attack your inbox.

Step 1:

I found a way to say buh-bye or take control of my more than 2,300 email subscriptions I had accumulated over the years. It was thanks to Unroll.me, an email detox system that will get you unhooked from the email leaches you have signed up for. It gave me the power to unsubscribe to any email subscriptions in my inbox and “roll-up” select emails into one easy-to-read magazine-like email that includes all the email you WANT and NEED to review.

Unroll.me example

So far I have unsubscribed from almost 1,000 email list and I have about 250 “important” ones rolled up into one daily email digest. OK, it’s not perfect, but it’s progress. Each week I spend about 15 minutes unsubscribing to more via Unroll.me until I hit zero.

More Unroll.me perks:

  • One rolled up email each day that includes all email subscriptions (no more noisy notifications!)
  • Easy to read from any device
  • The subscriptions are organized into categories and presented with your most important ones near the top
  • Presented in a visually appealing way that’s easy on the eyes and time
  • And, the best part, each day is archived in a folder in your own email!

Social PR Secret: Another resource to get to ground zero and win the inbox war comes from our friends at Sidekick by Hubspot.

Step 2:

Depending on the email provider, one way to assure you will not be an email hoarder is to set up an automatic delete/trash system. I use Google Apps for my company’s email server. If you look in the domain setting, it allows you to control email retention. I have set it so any emails 90 days or older in my Inbox that are not filed in a protective folder will be put in the trash and then deleted permanently 30 days after that. So bottom line, I can only keep (hoard) emails that are less than 120 days old unless I have taken an action to save it.

Step 3:

Do an audit of all your social network notification settings and turn off the ones you don’t need and eliminate the email notifications entirely. Do you need to be notified every time someone likes your update? Really? Or do you need a daily digest from a LinkedIn group? Maybe a weekly or monthly digest is sufficient. Consider your needs and let everything else go.

Step 4:

Check out solutions that can help reduce in-house emails or client emails as well. There is nothing worse than using your inbox as a filing cabinet. Searching for the email a coworker sent two weeks ago to get an important piece of information on a project can waste precious time. We used to use Basecamp, a project management platform that many organizations love and live by. I like Asana much better as a project management and task management platform with an easy intuitive user interface. There is still a blur of  Asana email notifications that can clog my inbox, but if you stay checked into the platform itself it is much easier.

Step 5:

Research how you can eliminate inbox fatigue. Another email productivity sources to check out are RescueTime, a service that helps you figure out where you spend your time and if you might be spending too much time on email. The average person spends four hours a day on email alone! Even if you could shave off one hour a day, that would give you back five hours a week to do something more productive and enjoyable… like a yoga class or writing a blog post.

Step 6:

Check out of email without missing out. Speaking of time to write, one service many journalists use is called AwayFind, a way to make sure you never miss an important email from a source or a story lead, but also still have space to focus on writing. Most people check their inbox about 36x an hour. Yes, you read that right! Just like a journalist working on a big story can’t miss an email from a source, a public relations pro can’t miss the email from the journalist looking to interview the client.

If This Then That (IFTTT) is another way to help stay away from your inbox without the possibility of missing an important email. For example you can set up a recipe to be notified via text if a certain journalists emails you.

Step 7:

Put an end to swapping dozens of emails with multiple people to schedule one meeting. Krista Neher shared her scheduling secrets that cuts down on emails, its called scheduleonce.com.

“The best $20 a month I ever spent,” said Neher who runs Boot Camp Digital, a social media training company for professionals.

Step 8:

Know without asking if they received your email. If you are in public relations, you must know how much journalists HATE when you call and say, “I was just following up to see if you received my email!”  Stop guessing and install Streak, it will tell you when someone opens your email. Seriously, it’s one of my must-have Google Chrome extensions for PR success.

Step 9:

Track the time you are saving and the space you are creating for more opportunity.

How do you Detox the inbox? Share with us your secrets, tips or comments!


Update: The original headline for this post was How @lisabuyer’s Inbox Detox Works. Well apparently there is such a problem that the term Inbox Detox is trademarked by Marsha Egan. She even  wrote a book on it and has a website dedicated to helping people who need some detoxifying help with the inbox and more. So if you are looking for more help, you know where to go next. See Marsha Egan!  

Image Credit: pixxart / 123RF Stock Photo

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