Five Realistic Tips for Using Email More Efficiently

From Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, here are some excellent ideas on clearing the clutter from your inbox.

Email. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. I’m trying to be smarter about how to use email so that it makes my life easier, not tougher.

I’ve read a lot of advice about email that, although it sounds helpful, just isn’t realistic. For example, I’ve read that you should deal with each email as it comes in. I just can’t do that.

I also commit the classic mistake of having a “miscellaneous” folder, which you should never do – though in my case, the miscellaneous folder happens to be labeled “Worth saving.” It’s full of emails that having nothing in common except that they are, well, worth saving.

But I do try to follow these strategies:

1. Keep it brief. On the Happiness Project Toolbox, I saw that one person resolved to “Write shorter emails.” This is a resolution we should all embrace! Easier for the writer, easier for the reader.

2. Stay focused. I used to write round-up emails, where I’d include several matters in a single email. I thought this was efficient, because I was sending fewer emails. From my own response to receiving those kinds of emails, however, I’ve changed my habits. Now I write multiple emails, each on a single subject, with an appropriate subject line. I realized that those round-up emails made it hard for me to keep track of different sub-issues, and I also tended to delete the email before everything was addressed. I’m sure I bug people when I send five emails in a row, each on a different subject, but I think it works better.

3. Keep a sense of proportion! Don’t flag an email as “urgent” unless it really is urgent! I know someone who has flagged every single email to me as urgent! Not acceptable!

4. Unsubscribe. As a newsletter writer, I’m always sorry to see someone unsubscribe from my monthly newsletter, but from a happiness-project perspective, it’s a smart thing to do if you’re not reading something. Sure, it may take only a second to delete it when it arrives, but seeing emails flooding into your in-box is so unpleasant; take a few extra seconds to stop those emails at the source. (On the other hand, if you’d like to get my excellent free monthly newsletter, sign up here! Or email me at

5. Manage your notifications. When you set up a Twitter account, a Facebook account, a Goodreads profile, a YouTube channel, and the like, pay very careful attention to the notifications. Do you really want to be notified when X, Y, or Z happens? Maybe not. And if you realize later you’re getting notifications you don’t want, take a minute to change your settings. As in #4, while it’s true that deleting takes less time than changing your settings, in the long run, it’s worth it to take steps to control this clutter.