6 Habits for Business Leaders to Better Manage Your Inbox

When not properly managed, it’s easy for your inbox to get out of control

If you’re looking at your unread emails and seeing numbers in the hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands…then you probably know what it’s like to be overwhelmed by your inbox. Many business leaders find themselves in this position, which ultimately leads to constant distractions, lower productivity, and missed communications.

Your time is valuable. You can’t afford to spend half of your workday checking and answering emails. Especially when it equates to lost time of revenue-driving initiatives, family time, and/or peace of mind.

Since you can’t always slow down the number of emails coming in (although we do have a tip for that, too), there are some strategies you can employ to help your inbox become better organized — and keep it that way in the long run.

6 habits to better manage your inbox as a business leader

If you’re overwhelmed by your inbox, read through our six habits (directly from expert Executive Assistants!) to de-clutter your inbox ASAP and spend way less time fielding emails every day.

1. Treat your inbox like a to-do list

The most common culprit of an out-of-control inbox? Not having a clear strategy. When your inbox becomes a dumping ground of newsletters, meeting invites, follow-ups, and more… you can never open it without falling down some rabbit holes. 

Expert Executive Assistants recommend thinking of your inbox like a to-do list. When you go to your inbox, the goal should be to understand immediately what you need to read, respond to, or follow-up on later. Everything else can be filed away for when you need it. 
“Inbox zero” may come to mind as an ideal goal for your inbox. But realistically, that result is only going to be true for about 0.5 seconds before another email arrives to ruin it. There are more effective strategies to make your inbox work for you!

2. Outsource inbox cleansing and organization

Many business leaders find themselves with too much to do and just not enough time in the day. If that’s the case, you may barely have time to read your emails, much less to clean and organize your inbox. If time is not on your side, outsourcing will be your best bet. 

For a long-term solution, consider bringing on a full or part-time Executive Assistant to support you with managing your inbox — along with many other things! This will enable you to communicate your needs and preferences and then let someone else take the wheel on execution. Many leaders find that once they hire an EA, they never go back! 
If you just need a short-term solution to get your inbox back under control, Base offers a one-time Inbox Reset service. An Inbox Specialist will learn your preferences, audit your current situation, and turn your inbox into a well-oiled machine that works for you rather than against you.

3. Make “Archive” and “Unsubscribe” your best friends

If the number of emails in your inbox alone is enough to make you sweaty, your best habit will be to get rid of things as quickly and comprehensively as possible. Instead of letting emails sit in your inbox without being read or responded to, take the extra step of either deleting or unsubscribing. This will go a long way in making your inbox feel less overwhelming. 

To immediately get your inbox in better shape, pick a date in the past where you can reasonably archive all emails that arrived prior to that date. These emails won’t be deleted forever (you’ll still be able to find archived emails when searching for them). But if it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to reply or refer back, just go ahead and get them out of your inbox! 

4. Organize your emails into categories

Having an organization strategy is key to being able to make decisions quickly, setting you up for long-term success. Take some time to audit your emails — specifically ones you actually read and respond to — and consider some easy ways you can categorize them for easy organization. 

For example, if you think of your inbox like a to-do list, you could consider setting up folders that enable you to sort based on the action needed. Such as: Action, Waiting, Reading/Reference, Newsletters, etc. 

Once you know the “why” behind every folder, it’ll be easy for you to quickly and almost thoughtlessly get emails out of the inbox and into a relevant category for easy reading and referencing later.

5. Set up helpful automations

Did you know most email clients offer simple automations to help you keep your inbox organized and clutter-free? It takes a minute to set up initially, but once it’s running, it will do wonders in keeping your inbox easier to manage. 

You can set up automations to auto-archive emails from specific senders or with certain keywords. This is especially useful for common notifications like calendar acceptances or Zoom meeting alerts. 

Where possible, you can also set up automations to organize specific emails into your designated folders. This helps cut down on the amount of manual organization you’d need to do. This is great for things like Google document activity, contracts, and time-off requests that could be automatically added to an “Action” folder.

6. Schedule dedicated time for your inbox

It’s really easy to find yourself checking your inbox periodically and randomly throughout the day. But that likely means you’re refreshing it, scrolling through to see who sent what, and closing it without taking any deliberate, intentional action. 

Instead, you should get in the habit of setting aside purposeful time to check and take action in your inbox. This could be 15 minutes every couple of hours or a block on time in the morning and evening — whatever works best for you! So long as you are making your inbox a priority during this time, organizing your emails appropriately, and taking action on the most important things.

Get your inbox under control (and keep it that way)

If you’re ready to dig in and get your inbox under control for good, we’ve got you covered! Our free guide, 5 Steps to De-Clutter Your Inbox, will walk you through our proven, five-step system for de-cluttering your inbox — so you can spend way less time fielding emails every day. 

The guide includes: 

  • Tips from inbox experts on getting (and keeping) your inbox clutter-free
  • Best practices for how to set up and organize your inbox
  • Strategies to keep email from taking up so much of your day

Download the free guide here.

Need more inbox support?

Get a comprehensive inbox overhaul and watch your inbox work the way it’s supposed to — for you. Inbox Reset is a one-time service where a Base Inbox Specialist will transform your inbox into a streamlined system that works for you. 

We’ll archive old emails, remove spam, create rules and filters, consolidate folders, and organize a long-term system that sets you up for success. Learn more and schedule your Inbox Reset here.

Written by Kate Ethridge

Kate Ethridge leads the sales team at Base, where she helps the world's leaders be more proactive and successful through Base's Talent Intelligence Marketplace.