People trash-talk email a lot these days. If you accept the conventional wisdom, email is old, bloated, full of spam and yesterday’s way to communicate. Instead, we all have better alternatives like Slack, WhatsApp, Snapchat and a hundred others.
But this favoritism is misguided. Worse, email’s bad reputation exists for one spectacularly bad reason.
Based on my own informal poll, and also scanning the Web for email complaints, I’ve come to the conclusion that the anti-email animus stems from the fact that people lose control of their inboxes.
We can’t keep up with the overwhelming and constant influx of emails and so it becomes a source of pain and suffering. Worse, because people fear that important messages will be lost in an inbox black hole, they check email frequently, which further raises anxiety, according to a scientific study.
As a result, people avoid email, and go off into walled-garden communication platforms that are massively inferior. For example, Slack fans brag that everybody’s on Slack. Some 2.3 million people now use Slack. That’s impressive — until you consider that 2.5 billion people still use email.
That’s like a thousand Slacks. Snapchat messages go away, so it doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed. But that’s a terrible solution to the problem. You can’t search for data in your Snapchat history. It’s not integrated into anything. And hardly anybody over the age of 30 uses it.
A bloated inbox makes us feel bad. But that’s not a good reason to hate it. It’s a good reason to embrace the “zero inbox” movement, where you have nothing in your inbox at least once a day. And zero inbox has never been easier to achieve. If everyone could only solve that one problem, we could all enjoy the myriad benefits of the world’s greatest social network.
So let’s solve the problem right now and understand the awesome benefits of doing email right. I’m going to tell you exactly how to achieve zero inbox every day, and also review some of the fantastic new skills and abilities email has acquired in recent months.
Three rules for achieving zero inbox
Achieving zero inbox is about the journey, not the destination. Three simple daily practices result in zero inbox.
1. Treat every email as a problem to solve. Every email you send or receive should be based if possible on the intention of reducing email. Think about how you might craft every email to prevent a time-wasting back-and-forth. Telling people they don’t need to reply is one good trick
When you receive an email, it’s easy to just click or swipe it away. Instead, try to prevent that email from recurring. If it’s spam, mark it as spam. If it’s a newsletter, unsubscribe or use your rules or filters to auto-file into a designated folder.
I’ll tell you below about a powerful service for easy unsubscribing. Also use rules or filters to make some email types skip the inbox. Some messages contain information you might need later but don’t need to see now and those are perfect for skipping the inbox.
This rule consumes more time in the short run but saves a lot of time in the long run.
2. Use Google Inbox if you can. Google Inbox is the best email app or site out there, in my opinion. It’s a smarter, better front end for Google’s Gmail. Most people don’t like Google Inbox at first, but stick with it and you’ll probably end up loving it.
Google Inbox lets you procrastinate with email, which is necessary for achieving zero inbox status and which is really handy for giving yourself easy reminders. You can tell messages to come back at a specific time and date, or something like “next week” or “tomorrow.” You can set up the times of day to which it defaults. And you can even snooze email to come back when you’re in a specific location. I even set up stores as snooze locations, so I can have a shopping list when I get there.
Email the Greatest Social Network When You Use the Latest Tools
Google recently rolled out new options for procrastinating. The new options are “Later this week” and “This weekend.”
Google Inbox has intelligence baked in. When you start to type a reminder, a drop-down list lets you finish it. When you have certain types of reminders, Inbox will add a handy link to the online resource in question. The mobile app version even uses deep neural network technology to suggest replies.
Inbox also has better integration with other apps; inbox reminders with times and dates on them show up in your calendar.
There are too many benefits of Google Inbox to list here. My advice is to spend some quality time with the settings and use Inbox actively to make email your best productivity tool.
3. Also use Gmail. Inbox is better than the Gmail interface, but not in all ways. When you move email to specific folders from Inbox, or mark messages as spam Inbox uses intelligence to try to figure out why, and does similar things in the future. But it’s more like a suggestion. Gmail, on the other hand, has rules. You can specifically say all messages with specific criteria must be filed in that folder every time. It’s more powerful and it’s also necessary for achieving zero inbox.
If you can’t use Gmail, maybe you can use Gmailify, which is Google’s service for making your non-Gmail account behave like Gmail, including spam protection and inbox organization.
Email’s awesome new tricks
A huge number of apps, cloud services, browser plugins and other products can make email incredibly powerful. Here’s a small handful of the amazing skills email has acquired lately.
Manage your calendar. A company called x.ai offers a cloud-based virtual assistant that completely takes over the job of scheduling, rescheduling, delaying and canceling meetings.
X.ai is in closed beta and you can go here to sign up for the free beta program. The company will release the virtual assistance service this year when it will cost $9 per month.
The way it works is that when someone emails you with a meeting request, or when you request a meeting with someone else, you copy x.ai’s “Amy” virtual assistant on the message. Then, all the back-and-forth negotiation for when the meeting will take place, as well as any subsequent changes, is handled by Amy, who sends normal, convincingly human emails on your behalf like a real personal assistant. She’ll then place the meetings on your calendar for you.
Take control of your subscriptions. Unroll.me has been around awhile, but recently they launched a powerful iOS version, which is actually fun to use. You just swipe left to unsubscribe, swipe right to keep. No matter where you use Unroll.me, the service will make it super easy to unsubscribe from any newsletter, spam, mailing list or any other email that can be unsubscribed from.
Find all the email addresses at any website. The Email Hunter service is a search engine for finding people’s email addresses. You plug in the domain, and the results show you all the email addresses found somewhere online using that domain. Better yet, a Chrome browser plug-in makes it even easier. Just pressing a button on the browser lists all known email addresses associated with the web site you’re currently looking at.
Take email to the next level. You can find many options for finding out who opens or clicks on email and other features. My favorite by far is Mixmax, which is free and works with both Google Inbox and Gmail.
You can take advantage of one-click templates, delayed sending, link previews, polling and surveys, cloud-storage attachments (like Dropbox), email recalls, unique signatures based on the email addresses you’re using, custom branding, group meetings and more.
These are just a few great new capabilities available for using email. A great place to find a world of powerful email tools is Product Hunt. Can Slack do all that? No, it cannot.
Email is by far the best social network ever. It’s universal, extensible, searchable, asynchronous, integrated, intelligent and flexible.
By embracing new tools for achieving zero inbox and by using some of the other new services for enhancing email, you can turn your own inbox into your secret weapon for mental clarity, personal productivity and masterful communication.