How to Cure Email Overwhelm | Ep 162

Less Email Less Stress

Do you ever struggle to keep up with all of the emails flooding your inbox? In episode 162, I share a simple email management system I learned from productivity expert, David Allen that will allow you to get more done in less time with less stress.


How Many Emails Live in Your Inbox?

I did a recent poll in the Facebook group, Music Lessons and Marketing. They asked the question, how many emails on average preside in your inbox? 28 people participated, which isn’t a large number, but still even with this 28, we can get a sense of what people’s inboxes on average look like.


  • 4 people said they have over 1,000  emails in their inbox
  • 4 people said that they have over 100 emails in their inbox
  • 14 said they have between 10-50 emails in their inbox 
  • 6 people said they have between 0-10 emails in their inbox


I used to fall under the category of 100 plus, or maybe 10 to 50. I always struggled with or felt stressed out by how many emails I had in my inbox. I would worry about maybe email 90 is a really important email from a few days ago that I’ve just forgotten about, but I’m now focused more on new incoming emails.


How to Get to Zero Emails in Your Inbox

Now at any given moment, I have zero emails in my inbox. So where do they all go? Where did I put them all? Well, I’ll share with you what I learned from David Allen regarding email management. I once heard someone on a podcast say, “Think of your email as your regular mail, that comes to you at your house or your regular mail comes to you in your mailbox.” You just don’t leave the mail in the mailbox. It would be overwhelming, your mailbox would be a mess. In my house, our mailbox is just a slot in the door. So the mailman puts the mail into the slot, it falls onto the floor. If I don’t pick it up and organize it, I’d have a big mess of mail sitting on the floor. The same applies to your email inbox. If you don’t sort your emails out, you wind up having a huge mess in your inbox and it becomes overwhelming and stressful.


When we receive snail mail we quickly identify what’s junk and we need to deal with. We have some sort of filing or sorting system. It might just be as simple as, you put your little stack of mail on your desk and you pay your bills. Physical mail is much easier to manage because we don’t really get that much in a given day. Whereas email, especially as a business owner, we’re inundated. And I just on my own tried different ways to manage my email and none of it worked. I would snooze an email, maybe I’d get an email and say, okay, this isn’t that important, or I can put it off for a few days so I would snooze it, and then would pop back into my inbox. I kept snoozing so many emails that I’d go from maybe 50 emails to 100 emails overnight because all my snoozed emails would wake up.

Email Overwhelm

I tried taking important information. I would schedule it on my calendar and then my calendar became a mess. Nothing really seemed to work, until I read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. It’s a very simple folder system and it really works effectively. It’s helped keep me focused. It’s helped me identify what’s important, what emails I need to deal with right away and which emails I can put off. What I did is I create five different folders. Each folder is named with the @ symbol at the beginning of the folder name. That guarantees that each folder’s going to be sitting up at the very top of the folder list. The folders that I have are named


  • @24 hours
  • @48 hours
  • @72 hours
  • @Thoughts and Ideas
  • @Waiting On


Assigning a Destination for Each Email

As an email or as emails come into my inbox, I ask myself, do I need to deal with this today? Can I put it off till tomorrow? Or can I maybe wait for three, maybe even four days? Perhaps it’s an email from a marketer that I follow. I want to read it, but it’s not really a priority so I’m going to put it into my Thoughts and Ideas folder. This quickly empties out my inbox. Instead of having 50 to 100 emails in my inbox, I only have maybe 15 emails in my 24 hours folder. That’s the folder that I’m going to be working on or working out of for the day, not working out of my inbox. That’s the big change. I tried using folder systems myself, but I wound up creating so many different folders, different folders dealt with different categories of work and then I’d forget that emails were in there. By just having five folders, it’s pretty simple, and having a completely empty inbox means I have no choice, but to go to my folders and work out of those.


My @24 hours folder, that’s where I’m hanging out all day. Let’s say it’s eight in the morning. I got all my incoming emails from the night before in their appropriate folder. I now go through my @24 hour folder, I identify which emails can I answer or deal with within two minutes or less, if it’s going to take more than two minutes, I leave it there. If it’s a quick response with yes or no, a response to a question, I’ll deal with it right there and then. All of my two minute or less emails, I knock those out. I should really clarify, not right there in the morning, but usually around noon, usually around noon each day, I devote about an hour or so of time, maybe even longer, just to tackling email.


I divide my day and this is a whole separate podcast, don’t want to get too distracted by this. I usually spend my mornings on creative work and my afternoons more on administrative work, work that requires less creativity and brainpower. An email for me is that dividing point. I transition out of creative work by going into my email. I first go to my @24 hours folder, all my two minute or less emails, I knock those out. For the next hour or two. I’m only working out of that folder. And throughout the day, I’ll check my email periodically. I schedule a time to check my email. I have my email closed for big chunks of time throughout the day. I open my email at scheduled times. As new emails come in, I send them to their designated folders. Now it’s pretty rare that I get, or I complete every email in my @24 hours folder.


There are always a few stragglers that I just don’t knock out. It’s usually because there’s just too many steps involved in the email. So the next day in the morning, I have to make the decision. What do I do now with these emails in the 48 hours email? Now we’re into day two and I sent these emails from yesterday into this folder because I now need to complete them today. Some of them, I send over to the 24-hour folder, others I keep in that folder. So every day I go through all my folders to figure out what needs to go into the 24-hour folder. What needs to go into the 48, in the 72 hours.


Thoughts and Ideas, again, these are things that are not time-sensitive, they’re thoughts and they’re ideas. Quite often I’ll get an idea for a Facebook or Instagram post, I’ll email it to myself. Goes into my inbox and later I throw it into my Thoughts and Ideas folder. I mentioned earlier, I have a Waiting On folder, so if I email somebody and I really need a response from them, perhaps it’s an employee and I’m waiting for a yes or no response from them. I send that into my waiting on folder. Each day I’m managing, what needs to go into which folder, but I do make a point to check the time sensitive folders every day, the 24, 48 and 72 hour folders. Thoughts and Ideas and Waiting On, maybe check two or three times a week.

How to Increase Productivity

So this very simple system has really had a huge impact on my productivity, has had a big impact on my ability to identify which emails are important and need to get done right away. I mean, I’ve always been able to identify that, but quite often, they get lost in the shuffle. Can’t tell you how many times an important email comes in, and then two or three days later, I discover it in my inbox and I panic, “Oh my God, I need to deal with this. I haven’t dealt with this yet.” No more, that’s been completely eliminated.


Another really important thing to take into consideration is that, as you’re sending emails into specific folders, the emails at the top of the list are the newest ones. And the oldest ones are at the bottom of your folder list or your inbox. We should always be working from the bottom up. The email that’s been there the longest is the most important. It’s just been sitting there for a few days. Many of us start at the top of the list and work our way down. Really, it makes more sense to look at the emails that have been there longest and deal with those first. That’s my simple productivity tip, an easy way to eliminate stress and increase your productivity when it comes to email.


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