I’m the CEO of a very successful software startup. 8-figure revenue, thousands of customers all around the world, employees spread out all across the globe. I know what email stress feels like.
There’s a lot of professional advice out there on how to overcome and manage email stress.
- The University of Michigan recommends to adherence to an organization system, making use of folders, categories, labels, and automated filters. And if you’re the kind of person that’s hyper-organized and process-oriented, that might be great advice. Spoiler alert: I’m not.
- Harvard Business Review recommends using services like Unroll.me to bundle email newsletters into a daily email, and prioritizing truly important emails by starring them in your inbox and (mostly) ignoring everything else.
- The Conversation advises to establish a ‘no email Friday’, not receiving work emails on your personal phone, and generally avoiding late night screen time, which a bunch of other more or less obvious tips.
But none of the stuff I read about online actually helped me. It’s all more rules and guidelines and complexities—and I already have too much of that in my life. I seek simplicity. I want to simplify as much as possible.
So here’s what helped me manage email stress:
I simply archived all my emails.
I shared this with my Director of Sales recently when he told me: “Steli, my inbox is freaking me out. I have so many emails to respond to, and oh my god, it’s stressing me out. I don’t know how to deal with all of this, I feel totally overwhelmed.”
I’ve been in that position myself, and my co-founder shared this bit of wisdom with me that eliminated all my email stress every since.
Archive all your emails. Just fucking do it.
Select all the emails in your inbox, and no matter what the number is, whether it’s 475, or 10,582 or 184,468—just hit the “Archive” button.
Trust me, it’s ok. Just because someone sent you an email doesn’t mean you need to respond to it. If it’s truly important, if it truly matters to the other person, if they truly need you—they’ll follow up with you again to remind you about it.
Not ready to archive all your emails?
When my co-founder told me to just archive all my emails, I wasn’t ready to hear it.
“What if there’s something important in there?”, I asked?
His response? “If it’s important, it’s in your mind. Everything that’s truly important, you know about it, you won’t forget. You don’t need it in your inbox.”
But I still wasn’t ready for email peace. “But what if there’s a great opportunity in there, and because I don’t reply we miss out on it?”
My co-founder once again cured my anxious illusions with a dose of indisputable reality: “Steli, llook at the oldest email in your inbox right now.” So I did. It was about a year old. “Now Steli, do you really think you’ll ever respond to that email?”
And he was totally right. That email didn’t matter. I’d never respond to it. But here it was, taking up space in my email inbox and more importantly, it contributed to my email stress, because mentally this was one more unfinished to-do item on my list, even though I didn’t know what it was.
And guess what? I still wasn’t ready to archive all my emails.
So he did what a good friend should do. He said: “Hand me your phone. I’ll do it for you.”
And that’s exactly what we did. I handed him my phone, opened up my email app, and he archived all of the emails in my inbox.
And just like this, I was at Inbox Zero.
You know what happened next?
The same things that would have happened anyway—but I was a lot less stressed, and I had a lot more time freed up, time that I’d have otherwise used responding to meaningless emails.
My company didn’t fail. The world didn’t end. I didn’t infuriate anyone because I didn’t respond to their email. Nothing bad happened. No negative consequences at all.
I felt free. I had less anxiety. I had clarity and focus, and I got the important things done.
Don’t make your inbox your master
Your email inbox is not your to-do-list. (Now, if you’re reading this and you’re a member of the Close support team… this doesn’t apply to you!)
All the emails in your inbox aren’t commandments from God. Ignoring them won’t result in your eternal damnation.
Got an overflowing email inbox that’s causing you stress?
If you’re read along this far, and you’re like: “Hm, yeah, I think I should do this”, well, then just do it right now.
Don’t continue reading this. Go to your inbox right now, select all your emails, and archive them.
Just free yourself from that unwarranted inbox responsibility. So many of us are addicted to responding to emails, we feel anxious when we fall behind, but with the hundreds of emails that land in our inbox every day, is that really warranted anymore?
A study written up in the Washington Post concluded that the average professional spends 4.1 hours a day on work email. Which is insane if you think about it. That’s half of your work day on email. It’s a sixth of 24 hours. You’d probably be a lot more productive and healthier if you’d spend two hours less every day on emails, and just sleep two hours more.
What’s your state of mind like when you’re stressed out about your inbox? It affects your day beyond just what happens in your inbox. How are you supposed to do your best work? How can you achieve mental clarity when somewhere in the back of your mind, your inbox is freaking you out?
I really believe that we’re building mental mazes that we lose ourselves in during the day-to-day, and the email inbox is a very common of these mazes. And then we wonder why we didn’t get anything important done during this day. Well, it’s because you got lost in that endless stream of incoming emails.
Focus on what matters, and get rid of all the BS in your life.
Just archive all your emails. If I’d be there with you now, I’d do it for you. But if you’re still not ready to do it, and you need a little nudge, just send me an email (steliefti at gmail) and I’ll encourage you to empty your inbox personally. And if something terrible happens because of that, send me an email and tell me about it, and I’ll help you about.
But what’s more likely to happen: You’ll archive all your emails and have your most productive day and week in a long time. And if that happens, do me one favor: Spread the word. Encourage others to archive all their emails, or just encourage them to come to this page, read this post or watch this video. I guarantee you, your life will be better, and you’ll be more impactful and productive with less email stress.