How to Stop Email Chaos and Get Closer to Inbox Zero

Melissa Moody
December 22, 2022

Email is Overwhelming

Do you know how many emails enter your inbox every day? According to a McKinsey study, the average corporate worker spends 28% of the workweek managing their email. Unfortunately, as frustrated as we all must be with this situation, it’s not getting any better.

Articles abound about the “death of email,” but email chaos continues to increase consistently year after year. Spam accounts for 45% of all email and continues to increase. And with the advent of communication tools like Slack, Zoom, and WhatsApp, we have even less time to focus on the tidal wave of emails crashing into our inboxes.

The need for a better way to manage the relationship with our email inbox is obvious and inevitable. "Inbox Zero" adherents aspire to an email inbox with nothing in it at the end of the workday. This concept certainly has appeal.

Psychology Today reports that unread emails are clinically proven to act like dopamine, so having a clear inbox contributes to a psychologically restful state. "Inbox Zero" is also appealing because the act of triaging your email provides satisfaction that comes from completing a finite task.

But, all of that work that you do to get to a clean inbox is, in fact, just a waste of time.  

"While the act of clearing out an inbox can feel as satisfying as cleaning the refrigerator, it’s ultimately just another way of wasting time."
– Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

How to Create a System to Maintain Inbox Zero

If you dig beyond the catchphrase (and as the creator of "Inbox Zero" Merlin Mann points out), inbox zero isn't really about achieving an inbox with zero unread emails, but rather about having a system to manage your emails.

So how do you build a system to control email without it controlling you?  

Here's how to better control your inbox (the key is to ruthlessly prioritize your time):

  • Limit exposure: Only check email at pre-set, scheduled times; don’t check constantly.
  • Make quick decisions: Only take action on an email once. If it takes less than two minutes, deal with the email right at the time you open it. Otherwise, add the email to your task management tool and attack those tasks in batches.
  • Don’t review irrelevant emails: The biggest problem with email overload is when we spend our valuable time on emails that have no value and no relevance. This is where the team at Gated saw an opportunity to improve email for everyone.

Stopping Irrelevant Emails is the First Step

At Gated, we built a tool to stop unwanted emails coming from people who don’t know you. Gated’s filter immediately reduces email by 40%-60%, enabling you to focus your time on emails from people you know.

Of course, sometimes a message from an unknown sender might be of value and, in that case, Gated allows unknown senders to reach you by making a donation to your favorite charity. When an unknown sender does that, they signal that 1) they want to support your cause and 2) they believe their email is of value enough that you’ll want to see it.

You can get Gated for both your personal and work Gmail accounts – it's free and you can add Gated faster than it takes you to read this sentence.

Originally published: November 28, 2020