Does the term inbox zero send you screaming for the hills? If you struggle to manage your inbox like yours truly, then take heart. Firstly, you’re definitely not alone and secondly, there are a number of steps that you can take that will help you manage your inbox. To help me get on top of my own email challenges, I asked friends who seem to be the Marie Kondo of email how on earth they manage to stay on top of email and in this article, I’m sharing what I learned about the 10 ways to manage your inbox that will help you to feel calm and on top of things, no matter how busy your inbox gets. What’s more, these strategies will even give you some time back that you can spend doing other things.

Inbox Zero, Is It The Best Way To Manage Your Inbox?

The inbox zero was originally coined by Merlin Mann. After we all heard this phrase and after Mann gave a google Tech talk on it, things were never the same again and the idea of having zero emails in our inbox became the lifelong dream. 

But apparently we’ve been using it all wrong.  Something which I for one was delighted to learn. 

People have taken the term to literally mean having zero emails in your inbox. But you’ll be pleased to know that this is not how the term was intended.  

According to Mike Vardy, productivity expert, Mann’s explanation of inbox zero is:-

“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann

So, before you hit delete on all those emails, you’ll be relieved to know that it’s not necessary. Now you can finally breathe a sigh of relief. 

Regardless of how many emails you get and how many are in your inbox at the end of the working day, what is important is not letting your email run your life- and finding strategies to manage your inbox effectively. 

10 Ways To Manage Your Inbox So You Can Get Your Time Back

Here are 10 strategies that will help manage your email. Some that I’ve already tried and found super helpful and others that I’ll definitely be implementing. 

1. Follow the 5-minute rule 

 If an email has an action that will take 5 minutes or less – action it immediately. It’s easy to keep on scrolling to the next email but why not just get the task off your plate there and then. By the time you come back to it, you’ll be having to read it again and that means more time spent reading that could have been spent doing. 

Just get it done. 

2. Touch things only once or as few times as possible

If you’re looking for a way to manage your inbox that will definitely save you time in the long run, then you need to learn to touch things only once or as few times as possible. When you read an email – take some sort of action immediately. If the request in the email can be done within 5 minutes- see the point above. But for those actions that need more of your time, for those things that require some deeper work, you can still file, flag or categorize. 

That might not seem like you’re taking real action, but organizing the email in some way straight away will make things easier when you come back to review later and this will save you time. 

What’s more- if you’ll need something additional to get the task completed later- information from someone else for example- why not send out that request now- that will take no time at all and means that by the time you get back to completing the task, you’re more likely to have what you need rather than starting from scratch. Often- it might just require hitting forward and writing a quick note. 

Implementing this strategy has definitely made a difference for me. It might mean going through your emails at a slower pace than you did before, but by the time you’re done- you’ll feel so much better knowing that you’ve got some things already off your plate rather than creating just another endless to-do list. 

And if you’re prone to get distracted, whether it’s from phone calls or otherwise, making sure you take some kind of action immediately on each email means that things are less likely to slip through the net. 

[Related: The 3 Biggest tips On How The Most Successful People Manage Their Time]

3. Schedule time for reading email and for an email audit

I once had a boss who was meticulous with her email, administration and everything else for that matter. She was one of the most organized people I’d ever met! When I asked her how she did it her answer was simple:- 

“ I schedule time for it.” 

My super organised boss-


You’ve probably heard a million times over that it’s best to schedule a set time for emails as one of the most effective ways to manage your inbox and stop it taking over your life. But it’s easier said than done.

Why is it that we schedule a time for most things, meetings, dinner with friends, email anyone? By scheduling time to focus on email, even to audit email, it means you’ll be giving it your focus when you do it, you won’t end up living in your email all day long and hat’s more, if you schedule a time for email audit then you won’t get overwhelmed if you’re not on top of the filing daily. 

Rather than just doing it here and there, as and when all through the day. There is a set time for email focus. 

And what is an email audit? 

Well, it;’s that thing that many of us only do the day before Christmas when there’s no one around, or on those days between Christmas and new year. Well, apparently, you can audit and clear your emails, anytime! Who knew. 

4. Don’t let emails fester 

File things or delete things but don’t let them sit in your inbox unactioned. If it’s unclear if an email needs to be kept file it or delete in at your next audit. Why not have a category or folder for this and then review and clear it in the audit.  

5. Set up rules 

When I first heard about rules. I was super excited. So the email doesn’t even hit my inbox! Yes, please. But be warned, if you’re going to set rules, you better make sure you remember to check those folders too. 

6. Set up folders… use a system that’s clear, simple be consistent 

Ah, folders. 

How many folders have you set up in your email system? Is it by project, by colleague name, team, by manager, by reference code? The options are endless! Therein lies the problem with folders. 

They’re a great way to stay organized with your emails but if you find yourself spending more time wondering which folder something is supposed to actually go into and then creating more folders than you know how to deal with than you spend actually actioning the thing then you have a problem. Your system may need simplifying. 

Set up folders, and whatever you do- stay consistent. 

7. Prioritize with flags, tags, and categories

Use flags and tags to help you prioritize to save time when you’re coming back to things – again be consistent with it 

Flags, tags, and categories are great. But again, if you use them, make sure you stay consistent with what they represent. 

8. Delete emails 

It’s hard to click delete for some of us. What if I need it later? 

Truth is, there are some things that can be deleted without thought. And if you’re looking for a quick way to manage your inbox, you can probably delete more emails than you currently do.

Birthday wishes from 3 months ago? Delete!

Endless cc when you’re not part of the topic? Gone!

Emails from projects long forgotten? Bye-bye!

Full disclosure, I find it very hard to delete, but it can be truly liberating and is sometimes necessary! 

9. Manage your subject lines

Putting important information in your subject lines will save you time and makes things simple if you have to reference any emails later. If your colleague doesn’t do the same, then just change the title in your responses.

10. The best way to manage your inbox…

One of the best strategies for stopping emails flooding your inbox altogether is … drum roll, please…

Use different channels of communication. Slack, messenger, phone calls. Remember, you can say in a few sentences something that might take 5 emails or more – and if there are misunderstandings, the back and forth could be endless! 

You can always follow up on your call with ONE email summarizing everything you discussed and agreed and the next steps.

If you’ve got any other great strategies for managing your work email that isn’t covered here then please share it in the comments below!