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Quit Drowning in Email: 5 Ways to De-clutter Your Inbox

Email clutter is nothing new, but whether you’re walking around with 25 unread emails or 1,000, the sight of an inbox to-do list can drive your spirits—and your productivity—to zero. At Bethesda Senior Living Communities, our primary mission is “service.” We’re here to serve our residents and their families with care and compassion, and we can’t do that if the business side of our organization is cluttered and chaotic.

Here are five tips we use to help keep our operations running smoothly, which helps us do more of what we do best.

1. Create folders to categorize emails.

Not all emails need to be answered immediately, and not all emails can be deleted right away. Sometimes they contain important information for a meeting next week, or contact information you’ll need to retrieve. Creating folders allows you to group and file away emails, getting them out of your inbox but without losing them completely.

2. Block out time for yourself on your calendar.

This step is especially important if your colleagues look at your calendar to schedule meetings. Blocking off time for you to go to the gym may help you keep your New Year’s resolutions. You might also consider blocking out set hours, such as 4 to 5:30 p.m. every day, for time you can use to catch up at the end of your workday, or make important phone calls to clients.

3. Unsubscribe from spam emails.

Many people maintain separate email accounts for business emails, personal emails and commercial emails. If your business or personal email account doubles as the account you provide retailers, you no doubt receive scores of promotional emails and newsletters. In the United States, one of the FTC’s regulatory requirements is for marketers to include “unsubscribe” button in their promotions. Taking time to unsubscribe will help filter unwanted messages in the future.

4. Focus on one email in a chain.

You likely recognize this scenario: You step out for lunch and return to 15 emails that are all part of the same chain. Perhaps you were cc’d on a conversation, and your colleagues used the email thread as a chat function. One easy way to deal with these emails is to look at the most recent email, and read it from the bottom. That way you’ll read the whole conversation in one block, and you’re free to delete the 14 previous emails in the chain.

5. Limit how frequently you check email.

Depending on the nature of your work, you likely don’t need to be connected to email 24/7. Consider setting two or three periods a day—such as 8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.—where you log on and take 20-30 minutes to go through all your email. This frees you up to spend the rest of your day focused on important tasks, rather than being distracted by the constant ping of new emails popping through.