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Take The BuzzFeed Five-Day Inbox Cleanse And Stop Hating Your Email

It's not about "Inbox Zero" — it's about "Inbox Chill."

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Between your work and your personal life, it's no wonder that your email inbox always seems to be full.

But with our Inbox Cleanse, that's all about to change.

It’s not just about getting to “inbox zero,” though. It’s about sending better email in order to receive fewer emails in return. It’s about using your inbox as a way to tackle your to-do list instead of adding to it. It's about changing your daily email habits to make your inbox more manageable in the long run.

In less than a week, we’ll help you refine your relationship with email so you can spend less time in your inbox, and more time in your life. With only five days, five strategies, and a few genius apps, you and your inbox will be totally refreshed and reorganized.

Here's the schedule:

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

Ten to fifteen minutes a day. That's it. Give us 10–15 minutes a day and we'll make your inbox way more sane. The secret is: Focus. Don't get distracted checking other emails or stuff. You'll have plenty of time for that once we've got your inbox organized and ready to go.

DAY 1: Learn How to Batch-Task

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

The first step to tackling your inbox is setting limits for WHEN to check it. The specifics will depend on the nature of your work and schedule, of course, but setting limited time frames for checking and responding to emails will enable you to be more focused throughout the day on everything else BUT email.

Your brain works a lot like you do: It groups similar things together to process them more efficiently. Instead of doing small tasks as they come up throughout the day, group similar tasks together, set a time limit, and knock them all out at once.

Michelle Rial for BuzzFeed

Here's how to do it: Take 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning and end of every day to DELETE emails and QUICKLY RESPOND to others.

Then, instead of constantly refreshing or checking your email, check it throughout the day when you have 5 or 10 minutes so you can actually address everything that's come in since your last batch. Delete, mute, archive, or respond to most things. Anything that will take more time, just star or flag and get back to it at the end of the day.

For a more detailed breakdown of how batch tasking can change your life (and your email), go here.

Pro tip: For most email apps, it's a lot easier to power through deleting a bunch of emails on mobile than it is on desktop. And for iPhone users, this cool trick will help you delete emails WAY faster.

Day 2: Unsubscribe Day

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

One of the most egregious inbox annoyances is the subscription email that you don't even remember signing up for. Often it feels easier to just ignore or delete these emails, but the real solution is to take that extra step and unsubscribe.

Spend some time today unsubscribing from as many emails as you can to eliminate future junk mail in the future.

One trick for getting this done manually is to search "unsubscribe" in your inbox. Most of your biggest annoyances will come up in the search and you can click through each one and unsubscribe from all the mailing options that you no longer want.

BuzzFeed

You can also use the Unsubscriber for Gmail app. It's like Tinder for subscription emails: Swipe right to keep, swipe left to unsubscribe.

Another brilliant tool to make unsubscribing easy is Unroll.me, a free service that will automatically unsubscribe you from emails you don't want, and bundle the subscriptions you actually do want into one email digest a day.

Day 3: Get to Know Your Archive, Mute, and Label Buttons

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

The three most unused functions of the email toolbox are three of the most useful: archive, mute*, and label.

Archive: For emails you want to be searchable, but not in your inbox. This should really be everything you don't want to go back to in the next couple of days. And if something becomes relevant again, you can always move it back to your inbox.

Mute: LONG LIVE MUTES! Stuck on a long email chain with a co-worker or friend group that has nothing to do with you? GET YOUR MUTE HAND READY. Muted threads are still searchable, so no harm, no foul.

Label: This is just another way to make your inbox easy to search. Creating labeled folders is a great way to have your inbox organize itself for you. If there are emails you get regularly but don't need to read ASAP (e.g., weekly reports, newsletters, etc.), make a label (which is essentially a folder) and set a filter for emails from a certain address or with specific keywords to skip your inbox and go directly into the labeled folders. You'll still see the folders get bolded on your left-hand column when there are new emails.

From now on, as soon as you receive and read an email, either archive, mute, label, or delete it.

*"Mute" is what it's called in Gmail; other email clients, like Outlook, call it "ignore."

Day 4: Think of Email as a To-Do List

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

Instead of getting overwhelmed by all of the tasks you see piling up in your inbox, use the features that your inbox provides to turn them into an organized and easy-to-follow to-do list.

In Gmail, there are two easy ways to make your email into a functional to-do list:

If you use Google Tasks, use the "Add to task" function for emails you need to respond to or address. It will create an actual Gmail to-do list for you that will float right to the top of your inbox.

You can also use the "starred" inbox layout as a to-do list: Star any email that needs a response (which you can then tackle in your allotted batch-tasking time) or anything you'll need to go back and reference in the coming week. Everything else, either archive, label, respond to, or delete!

For other email hosts, you can flag instead of starring and sort your tasks that way.

Day 5: Send Better Email

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

We tend to think of email as an expendable and free form of communication, which leads to both carelessness as a sender and a full inbox as a recipient. The best way to think about what to say and when in an email is to consider each email and word in terms of what it actually costs: time.

"We don't really think about the 'cost' of each email, because there is no dollar amount attached to it, but there is a time cost for both the sender and the recipient" Alexandra Franzen, author and communication expert, told BuzzFeed Life. "What this means is that every email is an opportunity to be exceptionally brief, focused, and respectful."

Here are 5 best practices for sending better email:

1. Use better subject lines:

Be informative and precise. If it's not good enough, if it doesn't communicate exactly what you express to say when you want to express it, they might just walk away forever.

2. Keep it short to make a statement:

If your boss forwards you an email with one note — "?" — you're going to get to it a lot faster than if they write a whole paragraph. Use this tool wisely. Try keeping every email to <150 words.

3. Respond with declarations, not questions:

If someone asks you "What time should we meet?" answer with "Let's talk again on Monday at 4 p.m." instead of asking if several times work. You'll eliminate at least one round of back and forth.

4. If you have to ask a question, be specific, not open-ended:

Sending an email that says "What do you guys think?" leaves it open for people to dally and dawdle. "Do you want to have the conference on a weekday or a weekend?" is simple and the recipient will likely know the answer sooner.

5. Don't sweat the full inbox.

"I answer most emails in a timely fashion, but sometimes I let certain nonurgent notes sit for days, even weeks, before I attend to them, because 'clearing my inbox' just for the sake of clearing it is...just not my top priority," said Franzen. She thinks of it this way: "I'm not 'behind' on my emails. I'm 'ahead' on my life."

For more, check out this post on how to send AND receive better email.

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