Overcoming Inbox Anxiety


Madeline Pratt, Founder and CEO of Fearless Foundry recently wrote about her challenge to overcome inbox anxiety, sharing key tactics that have made a big impact on her sanity and her inbox.

I suffer from inbox anxiety. In addition to the emails that flood my inbox daily, my social media channels are full of messages and comments awaiting responses. Feeling the pressure to respond to every message is something I’ve struggled with a lot over the years. Through my recent conversations with entrepreneurs, I’ve learned that I’m not alone in the anxiety that overfull inboxes can induce. In fact, the only leaders I know that are not facing some level of inbox overwhelm have found peace by giving up entirely on keeping up with the constant stream of messages. As one friend shared:

“I don’t even give out my email anymore because the only way I know an email is important is if I get a reminder email. I can’t keep up, so I’ve stopped trying.”

The achiever in me (yes, I’m an Enneagram 3 to my very core) is not able to pretend the messages in my inbox are nonexistent. But as the volume only continues to increase, I decided to get serious about strategies to minimize my inbox anxiety. After several months of trial and error, reading all the tips the internet had to offer, and talking to leaders that have broken free from the burdens of their inbox, these are the key actions that have made a massive impact on the state of my sanity––with minimal effort.

Build Time Blocks to Address Emails

When researching the habits of highly productive people, one key message came through loud and clear: Set structured times within your days to answer emails.

Emails come in all day long. If we don’t build boundaries, we’ll end up responding to messages instead of addressing other items on our to-do lists. To action this idea, I have a block in my calendar at the beginning and end of each day, specifically for email.

The morning segment is meant to action any items that need to be incorporated into my to-do list, and the afternoon portion is meant to wrap up any outstanding inquiries and dial down my brain for the day. Having these set structured times helps me focus on my work at hand, rather than letting my inboxes morph into a constant, demanding distraction.

Take Advantage of Existing Functionality

On the path to changing my relationship with my inbox, I realized that there was a whole lot of functionality I hadn’t put into practice that might lighten my mental load. My business is powered by GSuite, and Gmail has rolled out a lot of new features in the past few years to improve the ways we email. Here are a few that have changed the way I work inside my inbox and reduced the amount of time I spend in it each day:

  • Filtering my inbox in order of priority
  • Implementing email templates
  • Using schedule send

Get Your Team Involved in the Process

As my company grew, it became increasingly clear that almost all of the inbound email communication somehow wound its way back to my inbox. Part of this was the result of giving out my email address too frequently, and the other problem was that we didn’t have a good way for the team to communicate with each other about how to handle every type of inquiry that came our way.

We found that a central inbox quickly became cluttered and it was unclear who was responsible for responding to what. As a solution, we started leveraging Outpost to:

  • Easily see who is assigned to an email and comment alongside the email
  • Create sub-inboxes and assign proper access accordingly for various departments
  • Aggregate multiple email addresses into one inbox

Overall, the platform has transformed the way we work because it creates a collaborative workspace that allows multiple users to seamlessly access emails together. As we’ve evolved our process over time, we’ve found it’s important to set a single user as the owner to oversee everything. This ensures that the system we set up continues to work correctly and all email gets handled properly. Without a designated owner, everyone would access the inbox to get what they need and leave the rest.

Stop Seeing Inbox Zero as the Goal

One of the biggest challenges for my brain when it comes to email is the fact that I am hyper wired for achievement. In the past, my brain believed that my email was only ever “done” when every single email was answered. Unfortunately, achieving this state of inbox zero is fleeting, and defining it as the ultimate accomplishment left me feeling depleted. After all, sending emails only leads to receiving more emails.

Instead, I’ve worked to reframe my daily inbox goal around responding to anything that is one or more of the following:

  • Urgently in need of a same-day response
  • A message from an existing client
  • Related to bringing on new business

With those priorities in mind, I tackle my inbox accordingly. If I nail everything that touches these categories, goal accomplished. From there, I address whatever I have time for and then snooze the remaining messages until the following day so that I can give my brain a break.

Engage in a Bit of Biohacking

While I won’t be able to entirely remove emails from my life anytime soon, I’ve realized that I have the power to shift the way I perceive them by aligning a reward system around the way I answer them.

Beyond just blocking time, this means I now only answer emails with music playing, or I line up a little reward for during, or after, the activity. It might seem like a small change, but it has dramatically improved how I feel about answering emails. Even something as simple as taking a few deep breaths to center myself and clear my mind before and after working on my inbox can feel revolutionary.

I hope this list inspires you to look a closer look at the way you engage with your inbox and realize how can take action to minimize its mental burden. Start by trying out one of these strategies before adding in others and monitor how your mood changes to determine which ones work best for you.

Want to go even further in fearlessly managing your time and sense of wellbeing in business? Join the Finding Fearless Community to meet like-minded leaders that are reinventing the way they work through building wellness practices and time management into their daily routines.

Madeline Pratt
Madeline Pratt
Madeline Pratt is the founder & CEO of Fearless Foundry, a creative consultancy that supports ambitious humans in building branding, marketing, and business development strategies that allow them to make a meaningful impact in the world. Madeline is an outspoken force for promoting equity, collaboration, and community in business and she spends her time working with clients, creating content, and growing her team. You can connect with her on social media by the handle @madelinekpratt.
Posted in Advice for Strategic Advising, Working with Clients