Is your inbox a hot mess? (Mine was)
Four time-saving tips to eliminate email anxiety
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In June 2021, I staged an intervention… with myself. I had over 8,000(!) emails in my work inbox, and though I had hundreds of folders, I was struggling to stay organized, find old messages, and keep up with responses. A friend recommended Superhuman, a productivity tool that promised to help me fly through my inbox twice as fast. I did the math—that would give me at least three hours back every week, not to mention the relief I’d feel when I opened my laptop and saw a neatly organized, highly manageable number of messages.
I signed up immediately, and two years later, I can confirm the claims are true. With Superhuman, I save hours every week; I’m far more reliable for my team, publisher, and partners; and I no longer feel anxiety at my “unread” number.
In my quest to conquer the inbox with Superhuman, I’ve picked up many tips. While I will (and have) recommend Superhuman to anyone who even says the word “email,” these tips apply to any email system, from Gmail to Outlook to Apple Mail.
Try a month of Superhuman FREE with an individual starter plan
Archive, don’t delete
Your email system has both an archive function and a delete function—and they’re not the same. (Gmail and Outlook refer to it as “archive,” Superhuman calls it “done.”)
Archiving an email moves it to the “Done” folder, which means it’s still searchable. You know that long email chain with a zillion technical details that you thought you were done with… but another question pops up a month later? If you’ve archived it, you’ll be able to search for it and bring it back to your inbox, saving yourself the embarrassment of having to ask your boss to forward it to you again.
If you deleted it, however, that email is probably gone, as most email systems automatically delete messages at 30 days. Also, the trash folder isn’t included when you do a search—so even if it hasn’t been permanently deleted yet, you’re not going to find that email via the search bar. (You’d have to remember you deleted it, then head to your Trash/Deleted or Purge folder and search there.) Trashing emails is inefficient, time-consuming, and can be hugely problematic.
Rule of thumb: Archive everything—don’t delete. (Though it’s unlikely you’ll run out of email space, if that does happen, it’s easy to go into your Archive/Done folder and mass-delete the oldest messages.)
Skip foldering—just archive
If you saw the enormity of my old Gmail folders, you’d vomit from the anxiety. I had zillions of folders. Folders with subfolders. Subfolders with subfolders. Folderers labeled “CPG/Thrive Market” and “Thrive Market/CPG” and “CPG/Thrive” and “CPG-Thrive-Market.”
I thought I was keeping my emails well organized, but was that email from Thrive Market in one of these folders, or in one of my other 24 folders with “Thrive Market” in the title? I wanted to burn my entire list of folders to the ground. Until Superhuman convinced me to stop using folders.
It turns out that archiving has many benefits over foldering. First, foldering takes time to maintain (see: my 28 Thrive Market folders) if they’re going to be effective. Also, it can take a lot of time and mental energy to determine where an email goes, and trying to remember where you placed it later.
One single Done folder makes it effortless to move your emails from your inbox. No contemplation. No rationalization. Just one button—done. You can’t imagine how much faster I move through email now, and how much easier it is to find what I need later.
Rule of thumb: Stop foldering and just archive. Combine this with Superhuman’s email search tips and keyboard shortcuts and your efficiency is already way up.
Use smart reminders
I used to mark an email as “unread” when I needed to reply to it, but couldn’t respond right away. I also created a “follow-up” folder for emails that needed follow-up or monitoring. (Like, if a client said they’d send the contract by Friday, and I needed to make sure they did.) I told you, I LOVED my folders.
Upgrading to Superhuman, which sends my emails back to me at the day and time of my choosing, has been game-changing. (Unfortunately, this does require an upgrade, as neither Gmail nor Outlook have this feature built-in.) With the “remind me” feature in Superhuman, I keep my inbox clean without worrying that I’ll forget to respond or follow up.
When I pay for our annual corporate registration, I set the confirmation email to bounce back to me 11 months later. When a colleague replies on Friday with, “I’ll let you know on Monday,” I send the email chain back to myself on Tuesday if they haven’t replied. If I can’t handle the email in under two minutes, I’ll send it back to myself during a day and time when I’ll have the time to get into it, so it’s out of my inbox (and my field of vision).
Not only does Superhuman let you set a reminder for a specific date and time, it also gives you the option of selecting “regardless” or “if no response.” This small addition makes a huge difference in my email management, and keeps my inbox from getting unnecessarily cluttered. (That corporation renewal email comes back to me regardless, the email from my colleague only comes back to me if there was no reply.)
Rule of thumb: Utilize Superhuman (or another email reminder service) to keep your inbox uncluttered and let your brain chill.
Declare “email bankruptcy”
I saved the most impactful—and radical—tip for last. When I signed up for Superhuman, I was connected with a real person for an onboarding call. (Everyone gets this!) Megan walked me through all the keyboard shortcuts (money), the reminders feature (I clapped), the split inbox feature (I haven’t lost a Google Doc since)... and then she told me she was pushing the button to “get me to zero.”
I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand what was about to happen, and when I opened up my inbox the next morning, I PANICKED. For about 60 seconds. Until I realized this was the best thing that had ever happened to my inbox.
Superhuman’s “get me to zero” command takes every email in your inbox older than one week (or the time period of your choice) and archives them all at once. And before you say, “I could never,” hear me out. When was the last time you went back into your inbox and scanned emails from four months ago to see what you might have missed? NEVER. You never do. So they sit in your inbox, adding to that number at the top, not being acted upon, and doing nothing but stressing you out.
Take a minute here, and click over to your inbox. What’s the number at the top? (Share it in the comments if you’re brave.) Now imagine what a single digit number would feel like. Trust me when I tell you, it feels AWESOME. (And yes, anything that needed a follow-up did pop back up—at which point I handled it using my new productivity tools.)
Rule of thumb: Archive it all. (Superhuman makes this easy—Command + K, then “get me to zero.”) You’ll thank me tomorrow when you open your laptop.
The Inbox Whisperer
Thanks to Superhuman, my email system has gone from a stressful, chaotic environment to an organized, time-efficient, stress-free experience basically overnight. (And for the record, I’ve been paying for Superhuman with my own money since day one.)
I’ve also been testing their new beta AI features, which can help you write, edit, personalize, research, summarize, and even translate any email. (This morning it saved me 20 minutes summarizing a brick of an email I received from a research associate—and the summary captured all the highlights beautifully!)
If you sign up for Superhuman with my link, you’ll bypass the waiting period and get access to Beta AI now—plus a free month of Superhuman.
Use these tips to start your own “inbox zero” project, or recognize you need help (I sure did) and try Superhuman free for a month. Once you get a taste of the email freedom it can bring, you won’t look back.
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