As a freelancer, business owner or even employee you receive a lot of emails each and every day. Not all of them are important to you.
You will move tons of emails directly to your trash folder without opening them.
There are several reasons why you would want to limit these distractions. Have you heard of digital detox? It’s actually a trend to escape the information flood by spending a weekend or just a few hours without having a computer (also a smartphone or any other digital device) by your side.
The problem of having too much information input is real and people feel stressed because they are available 24/7. But even if you’re not stressed at all you will find yourself wasting a lot of time by answering and reading emails every day. This is not only bad for your productivity it also steals some of your valuable time that you could spend on side hustles, freelancing, investing, taking a break, working out, meeting friends or quality time with your loved ones.
There are many solutions and Tim Ferriss describes one of the best in great detail in his book ‘The 4-Hour Workweek‘. He writes about outsourcing your inbox and only checking emails 1 time a week or even just 1 time a month. However, this process takes a lot of time and is pretty drastically.
Today, I will cover a less advanced strategy that takes just minutes to implement and to benefit from instantly. In this post, I will show you 3 (+1) software tools to make sense of your inbox again!
1. Google Inbox
You know Gmail? For sure, you do. But Google has crafted another email client and this one has some great features you definitely want to check out!
I’m talking about Google Inbox.
The most impressive features are:
- See content details without opening the email!
- Pin emails to the top of your inbox.
- Snooze emails so they will pop up again later.
- Rich detail search.
- Bundling of similar messages.
- Set reminders.
- Grouping of emails like Gmail (Social Media, etc.).
- Google Material Design (it’s really beautiful!).
- Set emails and reminders to Done.
Okay, this is a lot and I won’t cover every functionality in great detail here. However, at the top of the list are the most important ones. You can see email details without opening the mail. What does this mean?
For example, a friend is sending you a YouTube link and added some text to it. You will see a thumbnail of the YouTube video and on a click, Google Inbox redirects you to YouTube and starts playing the video. But it’s not just for links. You can see reservation details at the first glance or if your flight has a delay. Everything is visible directly from your inbox without opening anything.
You can also pin emails to the top. This is handy if you can’t answer an email directly but you don’t want to forget it. With that said, there is another great feature you can use for this task. You can use the snooze feature to let emails arrive in your inbox at a specific time or date. This can be combined with a reminder and allows you to manage your tasks efficiently.
The last key feature is the rich detail search. You can type in normal text and it finds the information you will need. E.g. looking for a shipping date.
You can use Google Inbox easily on all platforms as it runs on iOS and Android as an App and in your browser.
There are literally only two downsides. First, you need a Google mail account. You can make any email address to a Google mail account but that requires some additional setup.
The second disadvantage is that you can’t add filters to Google Inbox. Sure, you can add filters to Gmail and simply use Google Inbox after that. However, I prefer to use one email client for all tasks. That’s why I see this as a downside.
If you are an Apple fan like me there is also another great client to manage your emails in a better way. The solution I’m talking about is called Spark.
The most impressive features are:
- Email categories.
- Search with natural language.
- Filter attachment file type.
- Easily switch between signatures.
- Simple integration of email accounts.
- Pin emails.
- Snooze emails.
- Customizable swipe gestures!
- Emoji answering.
- Batch archiving of emails.
- Mac: Support for Touchbar.
You can easily see that Spark offers also great functionality. I won’t go into detail into features that are also supported by Google Inbox like Snooze, Search, Pin of emails.
Anyway, there is other great stuff we should talk about. It automatically detects if an email was sent through a newsletter or is a notification and puts your emails into these categories. You will see personal emails (not sent through a newsletter and are no notification) on top. This makes it easy to focus on the most important messages.
I really like some small but really nice features. You can answer with an emoji and a standard template for this emoji will be sent. Think of recurring emails of your employees and you just want to let them know that you’ve read it. You can use one emoji and a standard text will be created like:
Thanks for reaching out, I have taken notice.
You can also easily switch the email signature which is a great thing if you are using multiple email accounts (e.g. private, freelancing, side hustle, etc.).
The most convenient functionalities are the ones that are specific to Apple devices. You may configure Spark so you will only receive notifications for direct email messages on your Apple Watch and iPhone, etc. The swipe gesture is pretty common for lists (like the inbox) on iOS and macOS apps. You can customize those so they will match your workflow. If you are blessed and have one of the new MacBooks (with this awesome Touchbar) you can also use the shortcuts provided by Spark.
You see, Spark has a huge amount of great features for Apple users.
This will be also listed under the downsides of Spark. It only works on Apple devices. If you are like me and own an AppleWatch, an iPhone and a MacBook this is no big deal. However, I know, especially in the personal finance area this is not very common.
Devices: Mac, iPhone, iPad, AppleWatch
The biggest downside is definitely that it only runs on Apple devices. However, I also dislike that there are no filters to configure. Sure, filters are a pro requirement and are mostly not easy to set up. Though, people who strive for higher productivity are may also willing to take these extra steps to benefit from it over the long haul.
The last solution I want you to look at is a classical one. Gmail.
You’ve probably heard of (and used) it before, but I won’t show you the things you already know. This is also why I’ve said before that I will show you 3+1 software tools. First, I will present to you Gmail filters which are a great way to get rid of unimportant emails. After that, we will talk about browser extensions of Gmail. A little spoiler here, two of them merged together recently and are pretty impressive now.
3.1. Gmail filter
In Gmail, you can add powerful filters to reduce the number of emails you will receive.
First, let me tell you how to add one.
In Gmail select the wheel in the upper right of the screen. Then click on it and select ‘Settings’. Now you can choose the tab ‘Filters and blocked addresses’.
Note: This functionality is also provided by other email clients like Outlook or Apple Mail. Though, I decided to show you the most accessible and the one which works in a browser for high cross-platform availability.
- Catch automated emails.
- Forward bills.
- Categories emails.
- Sort emails where you are only a BCC/CC recipient.
- Find attachments depending on their size and free up some space.
- Filter emails sent through newsletters.
- Mark emails as read automatically.
- Star emails automatically.
- Many more.
You can create filters for emails with a specific size. If you combine this with attachments you can find the emails that take most of your space. You can filter emails for specific words and automatically add them to categories or star them. Let’s say you add a filter for emails that contain the word ‘investing’. Now you can let Gmail automatically add them to the category ‘Personal finance’. If you want to check you PF stuff, you simply select this category.
Another great thing is to forward messages to another address. You could forward every email that was sent by your boss to a special email account that you see instantly (e.g. only this email account is connected to your smartphone). You will never miss an important email sent from the selected email addresses.
Maybe you want to delete the emails with the words ‘Subscription’ or ‘Sale’. There are millions of ways to effectively filter your inbox and by doing this you can reduce the inbox heavily and also save a lot of time.
Note: If you’re starting out filtering your emails, check where your emails went and make adaptions. You don’t want to delete a very important message because of one word. You may need another filter to catch this. So check them at the beginning very often.
Again this is great with Google. You can have smartphone apps on Android and iOS and also use the web client in your browser. You can even combine this with Google Inbox after you’ve set up the filters. That’s really huge!
The biggest downside is that it’s not easy to find the filters section. Therefore, a lot of people don’t know that they exist.
Another disadvantage is the configuration. This will take a while until you’ve set up all required filters and really start to increase your productivity. So you need to put in some work up front. However, if you’re looking forward to improving over the next coming months, this is a great way to get started.
3.2. Gmail extension Boomerang (+ Inbox Pause)
Gmail filters are great but extensions can make Gmail really shine. Initially, I would have told you about two extensions. Boomerang and Inbox Pause. However, they merged together and now you just have to install Boomerang as a Google Chrome or Firefox extension.
- All Gmail features.
- Schedule the sending of emails to a specific time.
- Set reminders to check again if they didn’t respond.
- Stop receiving emails completely.
- Stop the pause after a fixed amount of hours.
- Auto-responder if your email receiving is paused.
- Create exceptions by email address, domain or contained words.
- Create a schedule when to receive emails (e.g. 3 times daily at 8 AM, 12 PM, 6 PM and only on workdays)
This tool is so great. Both extensions where great. Boomerang let you send emails at specific times. This is great if you are working at night and don’t want to seem unprofessional to your clients. You can simply schedule the email and you know when it gets sent.
In essence, more powerful are the Inbox Pause features of Boomerang. You can stop receiving emails and this also stops you from being distracted by the alert and a badge of a new email in your inbox. You can stop this either after a fixed amount of time or schedule the whole email reception to fixed hours. It’s also possible to add exceptions for very important clients or your boss.
After all, the setup is pretty easy.
As Gmail, Boomerang is available on iOS, Android and with browsers. However, it is only supported by Firefox and Google Chrome. Anyway, if you use another browser I would highly suggest switching anyway. Chrome is the most powerful browser most of the time but the benchmarks change on a daily basis.
I actually don’t see much of a downside. You have very little to set up. However, it’s less powerful than Gmail filters. But a combination of both is unbelievably strong!
As you’ve seen there are many great tools you can use to reduce the time spent with emails. Personally, I use Spark right now but I considering to go for a combined solution of Gmail filters, Boomerang for Gmail and Google Inbox. This takes a long time to set up but I think it will be worth it after some time and refinement of the filters.
What is your strategy to reduce time spent on emails? Let me know in the comment section below or catch me on Twitter!