“Can’t you stop checking your email for five seconds?”
My dad is furious. It’s my sister’s birthday dinner and I’m more focused on my phone than my family. I raise my head to see everyone raising their glasses for a toast. I’m the only one not taking part.
I’m so checked out from checking emails that I barely remember anything from the night. Did we already sing happy birthday? Did she open the presents? When exactly did grandma get here?
I was an email addict. Despite obsessively refreshing my inbox, I still missed messages, forgot to follow up, and responded way too slowly. It was horrible; I stressed when I didn’t check email and struggled when I did.
If you share these problems, then let’s rehab together. Here’s how to detox from your inbox:
1. Reduce Your Incoming Mail
Decreasing inbox addiction starts with decreasing your email load. The easiest way is by cutting daily newsletters (think Groupon) you rarely open.
But I hear you. Unsubscribing from these emails is painful: it takes too long and there’s too many. So what if you could see your subscriptions and axe the ones you don’t want with just a click?
Unroll.me does exactly that. It allows you to manage all your subscriptions in one place.
Cut by clicking “unsubscribe” or create a daily digest of multiple newsletters with “add to rollup.” Either way, you’ll drastically decrease incoming mail.
According to CEO Josh Rosenwald, Unroll.me has helped users cut 5 billion emails. “The world is already so noisy,” he said. “When it comes to email, we’re just trying to make sure you only get the ones you actually want to open.”
2. Never Forget To Follow Up
Have you ever promised to follow up with someone but totally forgotten? With FollowUp.cc, that won’t happen again.
Write a time-specific email address (such as firstname.lastname@example.org), bcc it, and your email will pop back into your inbox at that time.
Other examples: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. You can also use FollowUp.cc to remember key moments. Set reminders for bills, birthdays, and re-send travel itineraries the day of your trip.
3. Type Faster
We spend too long on each email. To save time, use TextExpander (PhraseExpress for Windows) and create shortcuts for common phrases. Type a few letters (“ty”) to generate phrases (“thank you”), saving seconds on each email.
My favorite shortcuts:
On your phone, you don’t even need an app. Just add autocomplete shortcuts to your dictionary! On Android, go to Settings, Language & Input, Personal Dictionary, and add shortcuts. On iPhone, go to Settings, General, Keyboard, Shortcuts, and add them. For longer messages, try Canned Responses.
4. Compose Without Distraction
Remember the days of snail mail? Back then, you wrote letters, put them in your mailbox, and waited for the mailman to pick up and deliver a new batch.
Now imagine your mailman was absolutely nuts. Whenever you sat down to write a letter, he started banging on your front door. He would reach into his bag, pull out mail, and shove it in your face.
With email, this crazy mailman is our reality. It’s simply due to the design of most email clients: we can’t hit “Compose” without seeing our inbox first and getting distracted by other mail.
That way, you avoid your inbox entirely. Just hit the button, write, and send without feeling overwhelmed by other messages.
5. Play The Email Game
Yes, it’s an actual game. I recently spoke with Alex Moore, who invented The Email Game. He shared the story of how one user drastically reduced procrastination.
“He had 12,000 unread messages,” Moore explained. “But he played The Email Game and got to inbox zero. Isn’t it amazing how little things – like a timer, points and rankings – can make a big difference?”
It really is. Sounds like there’s hope for us all. Fellow procrastinators, I say we begin playing The Email Game first thing tomorrow.
6. Hit Pause
Sometimes I can’t help myself. I promise not to check email during dinners or meetings, but then I crack.
Inbox Pause helps immensely with this problem. The app does exactly as its name suggests: it halts email on all devices so you respond on your schedule.
Before heading out to dinner, hit pause. It’s a surefire way to stay present. Or hit pause when you’re trying to focus on work and cut any distractions.
Once again, Moore — who also created Inbox Pause — said it best.
“Email is like cleaning your house. Even when you think you’re done, another piece of dirt flies in and you could clean forever if you let yourself,” Moore said. “Sometimes you just need a reason to stop. Inbox Pause provides that.”
7. Perfect Your Send Time
Your emails won’t matter if they fall on deaf ears. Instead of sending when you finish composing, work around your recipient’s schedule. Send when they’re most likely to respond — and do it without even being by your computer.
Boomerang lets you schedule when to send emails.
There’s so many ways to use this app. Send emails after the weekend if you compose on Saturday. If you’re emailing people in other countries, schedule during their workday instead of yours. Rather than sending emails late Monday night, schedule for Tuesday morning. In all these scenarios, your recipient will see your email on top of their inbox, not buried below.
In fact, scheduling your messages between 5:00-6:00 AM is the most optimal send time. How do I know? Well, the brains behind Boomerang is none other than Moore. After combing through 5 million emails, he discovered that open rates were highest in the morning.
Meaning, if your email isn’t urgent, Boomerang to 6:00 AM for higher response rates.
(Fascinating side story: before building Boomerang, Inbox Pause, and The Email Game, Moore wanted to work for Microsoft. He interviewed for — you guessed it — the Outlook team, but they rejected him. Can you imagine how different things would’ve been if Moore got the job? Chances are we wouldn’t have all these wonderful apps. So on behalf of email addicts everywhere, thank you Microsoft!)
8. Learn Shortcuts
Everyone focuses on Excel shortcuts (hello bankers!), but the real time-saver comes with Gmail shortcuts. To activate, click the gear icon in the upper right, select Settings, and turn on “Keyboard Shortcuts.”
To learn quickly, download a Chrome extension called KeyRocket, which displays a small pop-up when you take an action that could’ve been done via shortcut.
Consider this intervention over. Now let’s just pray we don’t relapse.