How to Reduce and Streamline Your Inbox

School Structure


Are you bogged down with an unending list of questions and requests in your inbox? Do you want to reduce the number of emails you receive and streamline what comes to your inbox? This Q&A session with an administrator at Bethel Church presents a handful of tips to school leaders to keep email inboxes in the single digits at the end of each day. Whether you are a school director, pastor, administrator, or hold any other position in your school, this post will help you improve the email systems in your personal and school world in order to become a more efficient communicator!

What makes you an email ninja?

You mean other than the black belt and nunchucks? (Laughs) I regularly manage five email accounts and am able to keep four out of five inboxes under eight emails by the end of each day. I have a clear internal grid for what is important, what is urgent, and what is both. This allows me to quickly and efficiently identify what are my “fires” and when someone else is trying to make their emergency my problem. I meet my goal of responding kindly, quickly, with the information requested, and as soon as possible.

When do you tend to your emails?

Ideally, no earlier than thirty minutes into my workday. Some days, I am guilty of rolling over, silencing the morning alarm on my phone, and mindlessly skimming through my emails. However, that almost always results in me hopping on the internal hamster wheel and plunging into a “rat race.” Regardless of season or project, I try to take the first 30 minutes of each workday to evaluate what is important to accomplish that day, greet my co-workers, and establish what would make that day successful. I do not check my emails after work hours. If you struggle with boundaries or people pleasing, putting clear restrictions on your time is important!

What are “filters” and how do you use them to sort emails?

Filters are a way of automating the organization of inbound emails. They take just a few minutes of strategic thinking to set up in the beginning. If you do it well, it will do the rest of the work for you! I like to quickly identify what is actionable and so I filter by: “smart” folders, type of email (CC, BCC), and user or topic. Gmail, Apple Mail client, and several other services also offer automated and manual sorting. For example…

  • Smart Folders: I am subscribed to a few email lists that keep me up to date on staff news, resources, events, etc. Since those emails do not require my immediate attention, i’ve set up a smart folder to automatically detect them and reroute them from appearing in my inbox. This allows me to check those emails after I respond to more immediate messages.
  • Cc’: Emails that need my direct attention are often addressed directly to me and so all Cc’d emails receive a special tag that shows me I was not the direct recipient. This indicates to me that it is something I should be aware of, but doesn’t need my direct attention.

Do you use specific or general folders to organize your emails?

I like general folders by function. For example…

“Scheduling – Done”. While people like to dump all completed emails into one folder, I like having a handful of broad folders. I also pick and stick with an organization strategy of people or projects. For instance, let’s say a co-worker emails you about a project. Would you place that in the person’s folder or the project’s folder or (dear God, please no!) duplicate it? Avoid all that by making one system and sticking to it.

What keys to success do you have for those with an endless number of emails?

Here are some great keys to reduce an inbox! 

1) Set a realistic duration or quantity of emails to sort per day. You need to regain momentum, so making attainable goals is important!

2) Delegate whenever possible. Consider hiring a virtual assistant to help manage your emails.

3) Use a task or project management application (like AnyDo, OmniFocus, ToDoist) to prevent your inbox from becoming your to-do list.

4) Once you clean your inbox, sort each email daily and end the day with 0-5 emails in your inbox.

Do you have any other email tricks you can offer us?

I like to decentralize information by putting shared documents in a GoogleDrive folder. Instead of emailing me for a file, I empower them to access it on their own by providing them with the link. I also create email templates to save time responding to consistent customer service requests. My rule of thumb is if you have written the same content in three emails, make a customizable template. If you’re using MacMail, make a template by follow these steps:

Mail > Preferences > Signatures > create a new “signature” & make it a template for X.

Any closing thoughts on emails?

The belief that you operate out of regarding your inbox will dictate your experience responding to emails and level of work efficiency. Rather than seeing it as an overwhelming to-do list, see it as an opportunity to tap into wisdom, strategies, and tools to become a powerful, efficient email communicator!  

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