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5 Ways to Stop Inbox Stress and Regain Control of Your Time

stress-mainWhen was the last time your inbox was empty?

Sometimes I feel as if I spend the entire day just answering emails, without ever finding the time to get to more important projects and tasks.

When it comes to email, there’s an inherent pressure and urgency to the task. It’s easy to feel as if we should be constantly checking emails and responding quickly — or we risk the potential of being seen as lazy, unorganized, and unproductive.

When your inbox is clogged with hundreds of emails, it’s overwhelming to look at. We can easily feel panicked and not in control. But in reality, it’s not about how many messages in your inbox that matters — it’s how much of your own brain and mental energy is in that inbox. That’s what is sabotaging your productivity.

Maximizing your potential requires filtering out distractions and controlling your environment in a way that energizes your focus and creativity. You control your inbox — don’t let it control you.

Taking a proactive rather than a reactive approach can go a long way to helping you escape email jail. Here are a few tips for creating a healthier relationship with email:

  • Go on an inbox diet.
    Checking emails every five, 10, or 15 minutes can seriously hamper your ability to concentrate. Try adapting a strategy of checking emails twice per day: once in the morning and once toward the end of the day. Setting a policy will allow you to be focused for longer periods of time. If it helps, find an accountability partner to help test-drive this practice.
  • Close your email client.
    Close your email app or browser until your scheduled email check-in times. Rest assured, the world won’t end if you don’t respond immediately. To help curb your addiction, try turning off your Internet connection, which makes use of a psychological technique called a “commitment device.” If you’re a Gmail user, check out Inbox Pause, a Gmail extension that puts your emails on hold until you’re ready to receive them again.
  • Disable alerts & notifications.
    Turn off email sound effects and reminders. On your computer and smartphone, disable your bells, ringing, and vibrating alerts. These can be unnecessary distractions to remove your focus from the tasks at hand.
  • “Unsubscribe” often & liberally.
    When it comes to email and work productivity, less is more. Remember that time you signed up for a department store’s mailing list to get an extra 20 percent off? Eliminate newsletters and other mailings that you receive on a regular basis. Clear up space in your inbox by unsubscribing to anything you’re not reading or don’t intend to read (e.g., daily deals alerts). It’s easy to do and doesn’t take long, but it is well worth it. To make uncluttering even simpler, try It not only helps you unsubscribe from unwanted lists, it also rolls up all your subscriptions into a digest.
  • Make quick decisions.
    Every email requires action. A good rule of thumb: if the action can be completed within five minutes, do it then and there. For example, if you need to decide on attending an event, make a quick judgment and respond with a simple yes or no. For other requests, consider how much time the task will take you. If it’s something that can be done in five minutes, get it out of the way. Be firm and stick to the guidelines you set for yourself. If it’s a task you need to return to, make a decision to: file the email away in an appropriate folder; print it out; or add it to a to-do list. Be sure to schedule a time when you will return to the task and process it.

    Sometimes the hardest part about emptying your inbox is accepting that you have to say no to requests and opportunities. Your time is limited and very valuable. Don’t spend it caught up living inside your inbox.

Taking a few small steps each day to hoist email from the driver’s seat will bring you that much closer to working mindfully and on your own terms.

PS: If you’re ready to take back control of your time, change your digital habits, and live a more balanced life, my digital detox course REWIRE is for you. Doors for REWIRE open again in the Fall with all new bonuses, live calls, and Q&As.

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5 Ways to Stop Inbox Stress and Regain Control of Your Time

Melody Wilding, LMSW

Melody Wilding, LMSW is a performance coach, licensed social worker, and has a Masters from Columbia. She helps established and rising managers and executives advance in their careers. Her clients work at companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, HP, and Deloitte. She also helps entrepreneurs take bold steps to grow their businesses. Melody has helped over 10,000 smart, self-aware people like you. Her coaching gives you actionable strategies to reach your goals. You get concrete steps to overcome the complex struggles of success. Melody loves arming ambitious people with tools and tactics to boost their confidence. She can teach you skills for assertiveness and influence. Her specialties include better managing your emotions at work. Melody also teaches Human Behavior at CUNY Hunter College in NYC. She writes about psychology and careers for Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, and more. Click here and grab the FREE COURSE to go from insecure to unstoppable confidence 5 DAYS TO FREEDOM FROM SELF-DOUBT..

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APA Reference
Wilding, M. (2018). 5 Ways to Stop Inbox Stress and Regain Control of Your Time. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Aug 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.