Managing email is a never-ending cycle of ups and downs.
You get excited to check new emails, which might mean new opportunities, or simply a welcome distraction from a tough day. But once you open your inbox, the feelings of disappointment come rushing back. You're looking at an Everest-sized mountain of emails that seem impossible to manage.
There's no time to climb this mountain of messages now, so you'll get to it next time, right? But next time, the same feelings of overwhelm and powerlessness emerge as your inbox grows higher and higher every day you don't organize it.
Your inbox might seem impossible to clean up and organize, but there's a better way. And that definitely doesn't mean spending hours reading and actioning every single email, or waiting until the end of the day to tackle your unruly inbox!
In this article, we won't just show you how to organize your email… we'll help you configure your inbox to automate organization, so it happens accurately and effortlessly.
We'll also introduce you to a solution for getting through all of your existing emails, and reaching Inbox Zero faster than you ever thought possible.
4 steps to an organized and tidy email inbox
1. Prioritize your emails with the time management matrix
For many people, 10% of their emails are urgent enough to be read within five minutes, and 35% of emails don't even need to be seen.
The key to inbox organization is knowing how and when to address incoming messages based on priority.
Priority depends on urgency. The problem? What's urgent to you might not be to someone else. Addressing every email as urgent can stifle your productivity, yet neglecting to prioritize a critical email that could improve your business can also be problematic.
If you struggle with the daily organization of your email inbox, here's a method to help you prioritize your emails so you don't lose productivity and give in to distractions. It's called the time management matrix.
The time management matrix can help you identify an email's priority level so you feel more in control of your inbox and confident in your ability to keep it organized.
Here are the four quadrants of the time management matrix for emails.
Quadrant 1: important and urgent
The emails under this quadrant need to be actioned immediately or very soon. They are typically emails with an immediate deadline that can't wait until tomorrow.
To determine whether an email is important and urgent, consider the outcome if you don't take action immediately. The worse the outcome, the more critical the email. A multimillion-dollar deal falling through, or losing a ton of traffic to your website due to a technical issue, is worse than a client waiting an extra hour to hear back from you.
Quadrant 2: important, not urgent
Quadrant 2 emails are important, but they might not need action immediately. Schedule or remind yourself to action them later to keep them on your radar.
Some people might deprioritize quadrant 2 emails because they don't feel urgent enough. But letting them sit might delay your professional growth: examples would be hiring for key roles, long-term strategic thinking, or even recruiting inbounds destined for you!
Though not urgent, these emails are too important not to action. But compared to quadrant 1, they are not as critical to action immediately.
Quadrant 3: not important, but urgent
Quadrant 3 emails can feel urgent, but they may not be as important as you think. And most times, you can delegate them to someone else or schedule to address them in the future.
Here are some examples of specific emails you might want to schedule or delegate:
- Notes about a future meeting
- Action items you can delegate to a team member or coworker
- Information that is important but irrelevant to you
Scheduling email is simple with Superhuman. Simply hit Cmd+Shift+L on your keyboard.
Quadrant 4: not important, not urgent
If you're spending a lot of time on quadrant 4 emails, you might be robbing your productivity and wasting time. The reason is that these emails are not urgent or important! Most of the time, you can unsubscribe, delete, or archive emails from quadrant 4 emails.
Sometimes we spend time on quadrant 4 emails to procrastinate on another task we don't want to do, but being busy is not the same as being productive. Or we might not know what to do with these emails because we don't have a system to tackle them. Later, we'll show you how to handle these emails so they don't rob your time and flow.
With email prioritization, you can step back and assess the email's level of urgency instead of simply replying to messages on autopilot. Ask yourself which quadrant the email falls into, and act accordingly. Over time, this activity will become second nature.
2. Categorize your emails and automate triage
Categorization keeps your inbox uncluttered and allows you to locate your emails quickly. It also introduces automation which speeds up email management and boosts productivity.
Create several categories depending on how many emails you currently have in your inbox. As you receive emails you need to save, transfer them to the correct category.
Here are some example work and personal email categories for someone with a Director of Sales role:
- Sales leads
- Sales followups
- Upcoming meetings
- Personal reminders
- Monthly subscriptions
- Email followup (general email category for emails you need to follow up with)
- Email waiting (general email category for emails you need to address at a later date)
Speed up and automate email organization
Email triage is a system of reviewing emails that leaves no email untouched. But triage can be time-consuming without the right tools.
When you automate email triage, you no longer have to worry about important messages buried by your store promotions or urgent reminders lost in mom's birthday reminders.
Manual categorization is a time-waster that hinders productivity because each new email forces your brain to focus on a different topic. This is called task or context switching, and according to a report by Qatalog and Cornell University's Idea Lab, 45% of people say that context switching makes them less productive, and 43% say it is tiring.
Automated email triage groups your emails by common identifiers you choose (email, subject line, etc.) and automatically assigns them to a category. When you open your inbox, your emails are already categorized, and you can go through them in batches, preventing task switching because you're tackling one category or topic at a time.
So, if you are the Director of sales from our earlier example, instead of going through each work email in your primary inbox, you would tackle your Accounting category, which includes similar emails. You'll blast through them much quicker, because you're processing one topic stream at a time.
The problem is that email apps typically categorize emails by types, which are pretty basic (Primary, Social, and Promotions in Gmail). If the prebuilt categories are not specific enough, you're still task switching!
Superhuman solves this problem with Split Inbox. Superhuman's Split Inbox is the easiest way to take control of your inbox and automate your incoming email into categories called splits.
With Superhuman, you aren't limited to prebuilt categories. You can create multiple custom splits: categories for important emails or any other topic you want.
If you're serious about email organization and gaining control of your inbox, read our in-depth piece on email triage. We teach you how to approach each email and action them immediately so they don't clutter your inbox.GET STARTED WITH SUPERHUMAN
3. Use templated snippets and messages
While we're on the subject of speeding up email management, let's talk templates! While templates don't help you organize emails, they optimize your response time and speed up your email management, which helps you keep the chaos at bay.
Templates (pre-saved responses) will be beneficial if you find yourself copying and pasting from old messages or repeating the same tasks in your emails. Use templates to speed up your responses. If you send follow-up emails to the same type of person repeatedly — like leads, customers, or team members — or send the same attachments, and cc the same people, templates will dramatically speed up your workflow.
Superhuman's Snippets allow you to coast through email replies. Snippets are templates you create once, and then use over and over — effortlessly tailoring them for every recipient. In addition to creating templates out of email content, you can include attachments and add people to cc.
Snippets include variables that allow you to send templated messages with personalized information. For example, a human resources manager interviewing candidates for a position can use Snippets to send templated replies to candidates, but personalize them with the recipient's name.
4. Putting it all together: creating better email habits
An organized and stress-free inbox requires habit-forming. We gave you tools to make it easy to maintain. Next is putting it into action! Here are some tips to remember.
Just because you receive a new email message doesn't mean it needs to be actioned immediately. Constant email checking hinders productivity.
If you get more urgent emails, create a category and use an identifier that applies to all urgent emails, such as a particular sender's email or subject. This way, you won't have to scroll through your entire inbox, checking for urgent ones. Schedule three or four times a day to check your urgent category so you aren't constantly checking your inbox and know precisely where to go once you get there.
Use calendar blocking
We are big fans of time blocking because it puts you back in control of your day and helps you get much more done in less time!
Time blocking involves designating tasks to specific times of the day so you know precisely when to tackle your to-do list. WIthout time blocking, it's easy to fall prey to distractions (social media, friend's texts, missed calls, and more!) because you'll be haphazardly tackling your to-do list without any boundaries. Distractions can easily steal your focus without the structure of start and stop times.
Use calendar blocking to schedule times to manage and check your email accounts to stay focused throughout the day.
Want a step-by-step plan? Check out our in-depth article on calendar blocking.
Prevent and avoid distractions
Whether an affection-hungry pet, texts from a friend, or that leftover pie calling you from the fridge, they're all distracting and will steal your productivity if you let them.
The following tips have helped us create better habits around managing our time and avoiding giving into constant distractions.
- Turn off phone and email notifications.
- Use focus apps to help you concentrate.
- Track and create new habits with habit trackers.
- Practice calendar blocking.
- Remote workers can set boundaries with family members and create working hours where you're not to be disturbed outside of emergencies. Here are some other tips on how to not get distracted while working from home.
- Resist the urge to check your email all day! Creating new habits might take time, but a little discipline can go a long way. You got this!
Less chaos, more speed: organize your email with Superhuman
If you're looking for a fast and easy way to organize your email, Superhuman can help.
With Split Inbox, you can automate categorization, fly through your splits, and reach Inbox Zero fast. Plus, with features such as Snippets, Send Later, Instant Intro, hotkeys, and more (you can even snooze emails!), Superhuman will help you create more productive workflows and regain control of your inbox.
Sign up for Superhuman and organize your email so you can blaze through email management. When you sign up, our onboarding specialists can help you customize your inbox and create an organization system that works just for you! But if you're in a hurry, you can get started with Superhuman right away… no onboarding required.