You all know I’m enthusiastically on the non-stop train to automation station.
Automating processes and tasks is essential for me. As a solopreneur, it’s not like you have a full-time assistant or team…EVERYTHING is on you.
And one of the places automating tasks is most useful? That frigging inbox that won’t stop bringing in new things.
Inbox Zero is an elusive beast lots of us chase after.
And if you achieve it, it only lasts a few minutes before a new email comes in and you’re decrowned.
Just like when you played Pretty Pretty Princess in college…I mean preschool. 👑
But while I used to spend an hour or two per day going through all my inboxes (omg that feels embarrassing now!), I now spend that much time on it per week.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Here are the inbox zero tricks that let @thatbberg manage email in just an hour or so per week #productivity” quote=”Here are the inbox zero tricks that let @thatbberg manage email in just an hour or so per week”]
While I’m a lot smarter with my email management habits in general, a big part of that huge decrease in time spent in my inbox is because of automation.
Using Automation to Reach Inbox Zero
Talking about all the different ways you can make it easier to reach inbox zero would take a few hours. But here are the apps and features that can help you take care of the automation part.
The two biggest changes that you can make to your email management habits are:
- Saving time on inbox management, since just cleaning up and going through new messages can be a whole job
- Reducing how many emails you receive by changing your communication habits, because it’s NOT the answer to everything
So that’s what we’re covering today!
Because if you’re anything like Leslie Knope and me, disorganization makes you itchy. (You KNOW Leslie Knope reaches inbox zero every single day. 💁🏻)
But first! Pin this post:
Emails Apps and Tools to Make Reaching Inbox Zero a Thousand Times Easier 💪
1. Gmail Filters: Create Rules to Automatically Filter Emails
The automatic rules and filters built-in to Gmail and other email clients are pretty underutilized and pretty powerful. Way more powerful than you’d think.
Between sending automatic responses, taking care of filtering and labeling, and getting rid of some emails completely, rules can handle most of your inbox triage and decluttering for you.
That way, when you log into your Gmail, what’s right in front of your face is ONLY the important stuff.
I’ve set up rules and filters recently with Gmail, Outlook and Apple Mail, and you can get really advanced with all of them. Even Outlook, which I hated otherwise, had pretty decent filters.
Those are all the most basic email apps, and of course, in fancier apps you’ll have even fancier filters.
Here are some of my own favorite Gmail rules for filtering emails:
- Create a filter that adds a specified label to all newsletters and weekly content-based emails and lets them skip the inbox. This basically lets you create your own DIY Unroll.me, which I talk about more below!
- Have all retail, ecommerce, and other promotional emails skip the inbox and go to a specified folder you can check ONLY when it’s shopping time. This has helped me curb my impulse shopping SO much. (Sorry, Amazon, you can survive without my 3am “insomnishops.” 🙃)
- If you freelance or consult, create a rule that automatically stars all client emails (entering their company email domain as a search term – like @workbrighter.co – so they stand out for you).
- Create a rule that automatically labels and archives all notification emails from online business tools, marketing platforms, social media, and more.
- Add a rule based on subject line keywords to identify new client or sales prospects – reply to those emails ASAP.
- Use keyword rules to star or mark as important any emails that might contain a joint venture opportunity.
- If you have clients that use project management software, use a rule that adds notification emails to your “To do” label
See, there are SO MANY possibilities that without even using third-party apps, you can cut in half how long it takes to reach inbox zero…THANK YOU GMAIL FILTERS. 🙌
[click_to_tweet tweet=”#Productivity tip from @thatbberg: filter your inbox so that when you log in, ONLY important emails are in front of you!” quote=”Productivity tip: filter your inbox so that when you log in, ONLY important emails are in front of you!”]
2. Boomerang: How Night Owls Can Email Like Early Birds
I love checking emails at night while chilling and watching Netflix, but 10pm client emails aren’t the best for establishing boundaries. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Thankfully, no matter what time I’m in my inbox with Parks & Rec in the background, I can schedule all outgoing replies to get sent during reasonable human working hours. 😉
You can also “snooze” emails until later with one click, giving yourself an illusion of reaching inbox zero without all the work.
Think of how many messages in your inbox are there to be referenced later. Your inbox (and life!) would be less cluttered if that guest post draft went out of sight and out of mind until the week you actually need to edit it.
This is what snoozing email is for.
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of snoozing (I prefer the “only touch it once” approach to things), but have found really it really useful in certain situations.
For example, after I come back from time off and have a crap ton of email, I’ll snooze a bunch of it so staring at my inbox is less overwhelming as I catch up on it all.
Okay, and there’s one last cool thing to mention about Boomerang:
You can set up automated reminders to follow up with people if you haven’t heard back in a certain amount of time.
I’m horrible with following up, and I know I’m not the only one, so this helps me with all of my professional nagging.
We should all use Boomerang more – I’d have so many more guest posts, joint webinars, and more by now lol.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Tip for night owls from @thatbberg: if you like to check email at night, schedule replies to send in the morning to set office hours/boundaries!” quote=”Tip for night owls: if you like to check email at night, schedule replies to send in the morning to set office hours/boundaries!”]
3. Unroll.me: A Fruity Newsletter Snack
Those good email habits I mentioned earlier? Those are like 72% made possible by Unroll.me. The rest, I’m taking full credit for.
It’s basically a support mechanism for newsletter addicts.
Okay, I have my serious voice on now…
Really, it’s more like a mass unsubscribe button and a newsletter digest. Those are the two big features.
When you sign up for an account, you can view a list of all the senders of mass emails and newsletters in your inbox. Then you can one-click unsubscribe from any that are just taking up space.
The second big feature of theirs is your rollup – and I’m not talking the fruity snacks from the 90s (which were delicious).
You can choose which newsletters and mailing lists are included in a once-daily email digest instead of receiving them one at a time. They’ll automatically skip your inbox and go to a special folder, then be delivered in a rollup.
40 newsletter memberships and 1 new email per day, no matter how many lists send out something? Yeesssss.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Use Unroll.me’s digest feature to subscribe to as many newsletters as you want without cluttering your inbox! via @thatbberg #productivity” quote=”Use Unroll.me’s digest feature to subscribe to as many newsletters as you want without cluttering your inbox!”]
4. Gmail Canned Responses: Create & Store Email Templates
Templates, in general, are amazing. They’re just SO useful.
Whether you’re sending marketing outreach or creating a new graphic, templates let you automate parts of whatever you can’t automate completely.
There are a lot of fancy tools that let you create email templates – CRMs, outreach tools, customer service platforms, etc. And those tools are great.
But I still mainly use the built-in Gmail Canned Responses.
If you’re not using Gmail, most clients have a template or snippets feature, which probably includes the one you use. If not, even the free CRMs and outreach tools often have the feature as well.
But if you prefer to keep things simple like me, you can keep in inside your inbox.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”‘Templates let you automate parts of whatever you can’t automate completely.’ – @thatbberg” quote=”Templates let you automate parts of whatever you can’t automate completely.”]
5. Typeform: Ask the Exact Questions You Need Answers to
Death to the generic contact form! Rah, rah, rah!
But for real, only asking for a name, email, and message in one general form just creates more work for yourself. And for the person contacting you.
So why use them?
Customized forms that ask questions – the questions you actually need to know – are the way to rock. 🤘
For example, the Typeform on my business’s hire me page asks questions specific to the packages I create for clients. By streamlining that lead generation process, I’m able to get new client work off the ground faster and spend more time on that stuff instead of research.
Save time on back-and-forth emails with people contacting you by getting the answers you need up front. Typeform is my favorite tool for this since they’re just so good-looking. 😎
6. MailChimp: Move Marketing to a Separate Tool
Once you’ve created fancy forms and email scripts, you need to put them to use.
If you want to grow your email list and take advantage of email for real, for real, you need to upgrade to an email marketing provider.
That way you can send your own newsletters and automated email sequences, and reduce how many individualized emails you need to send to customers and clients.
It won’t work for all businesses, depending on your personal preferences, the types of emails you send, how you build your list, stuff like that.
But it works for a lot of us, and taking full advantage of it can bring magical email workflows, auto-responses, and more to your sending processes. 🤖
7. Trello: Send Less Email With a Project Management Tool
Now we’re getting into the tools that help you with your inbox by staying out of your inbox.
First up’s your project management tool – Trello is my type A choice. I’ve used it for legit everything I can figure out a way to, from tracking recipes I both like and can cook without effing up, to client processes and assignments.
But I’ll wax poetic about that another day…
One great way Trello and other project management tools come in handy is with email notifications. And push notifications, if you have their mobile or desktop app installed.
When you’re working with someone, from a client to a joint venture webinar partner, you can rely on them receiving a notification email about you moving your assigned card to the “Done” list, instead of taking the extra time to send them an email saying “it’s done.”
And notifications can be grouped into daily digests pretty frequently, cutting down on overall email even more. 😍
8. Slack: Take It to the Chat
Slack – oh my love for Slack, now let’s talk about waxing poetic… – is another awesome way to cut down on email both sent and received.
For my clients that use Slack very heavily, I literally haven’t emailed with them since getting the job and getting added to their Slack team.
You can also create a private Slack team for yourself to serve as a sort of personal dashboard with emails, notifications, and more from different bots and integrations.
I like to call mine a personal productivity dashboard and self-care fairy.
9. IFTTT: Automate Single Email Actions
Automate and triage your inbox like a freaking superstar. IFTTT (“if this, then that”) lets you connect different apps and websites together to build your own automations, workflows, recipes, and integrations.
Yeah, it’s ridiculously powerful. And all free.
Connect it to your inbox along with the other apps you use to save time transferring information, automate parts of your email system, and have fun with IFTTT. 🙂
Recommended: 8 IFTTT recipes to automate your solopreneur biz
Want to hear something? There’s another app as awesome as IFTTT, maybe more so. It’s Zapier. I compare them because they’re super similar. But I like to call Zapier “IFTTT for business” or “IFTTT in a suit and tie.”
Recommended: saving time with IFTTT and Zapier by One Woman Shop
You can connect like 300 business apps to your inbox for different triggers and automations. And they even have an email parser to let you get really fancy.
Well, that’s 10 tools that will keep you from going insane in the biz brain? Bet you never heard that unreleased Cypress Hill track.
Which ones do you use to get to inbox zero? Leave additions in the comments.
Enjoyed these inbox zero tips? Get more ideas like these in the Work Brighter Weekly.
Note: This post was originally published on BrittanyBerger.com in June 2016.