The Breakthrough Email Minimalism Guide
Do you feel that your inbox more and more resembles a hungry beast that’s never satisfied? Yes? Then, you already know the thrilling saga of modern-day digital communication.
But no worries, there is a solution that can tame this “beast.”
It applies minimalist principles to email, also called email minimalism.
And in this article, I will dive into the heart of this beast, navigate the swirling vortex of unread emails, leap over the spam traps, and deal with the lurking monsters of subscription newsletters.
Other topics my article covers are the following…
- The ‘Why” behind email minimalism (4 benefits)
- Unsubscribe: Your secret weapon
- Mastering the art of prioritization
- Automation: your virtual assistant
- Dedicated email time
- Regular email cleaning
- How to cut down on emails at work
- Minimalist email templates
- The minimalist email signature
- Minimalist email clients and apps
The ‘Why’ Behind Email Minimalism (4 Benefits)
Imagine a morning without the first thing being to check an overflowing inbox.
Instead, you enjoy your coffee, breathe in the sunrise, and start the day on your terms.
Well, this would be the result of successful email minimalism.
Is this just a feel-good fantasy, or are there real, tangible benefits?
First up is productivity.
With a minimalist approach to email, you’re in control. Fewer distractions mean you can focus on what’s important.
Stanford University even conducted a study linking excessive multi-tasking, including email overload, with lowered productivity.
It states, “Email overload is an enduring challenge. While email has many positive impacts on organizations, frequent email interruptions can decrease productivity, and large volumes can create information overload.“
So, by cutting back on emails, you’re improving productivity.
Now, onto stress reduction.
According to a study from Melissa J. Armstrong (MD, MSc.), constantly checking emails increases stress levels.
The study also states that 81% of employed Americans constantly or often check emails, texts, and social media accounts.
You can now imagine the peace that comes with reducing that digital noise.
Third, better communication.
When your email load is lighter, you have more time to craft thoughtful, effective responses.
And lastly, there is decision fatigue you can reduce or mitigate. Each email demands a decision – to reply, delete, flag, read later…
So applying minimalism principles to your email usage simplifies your decision-making, leaving room for the big stuff.
Avoiding decision fatigue is also why Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same outfit daily to reduce trivial decisions. Not sure how it’s now, but at least for a period, they did…Well, I think Mr. Zuckerberg still does…
Email minimalism isn’t just a nice idea.
It can help you have a more productive, less stressful, and satisfying life.
Now let’s discuss the tactics and strategies you can use for email minimalism…
The goal is to reduce the number of emails you have to deal with and your “checking frequency.”
Unsubscribe: Your Secret Weapon
Ever been at a party where someone keeps butting into your conversations, blabbering about things you don’t care about?
Suppose you could click a button and poof – they disappear, leaving you to enjoy your evening.
That’s what the “unsubscribe” link in your emails can do.
I am not saying to unsubscribe from all of them (for example, not mine)…
But promotional emails, newsletters you never read, and updates from that app you used once are like those unwanted party guests.
They barge into your inbox, demanding attention and cluttering your space.
Often it’s not even good email sales copy (as a copywriter, I also appreciate reading good email copy occasionally).
But you have the power to stop them…With a simple click on “unsubscribe,” you regain control of your digital environment.
This may seem small, but let’s do the math here.
Say, you receive five unnecessary emails per day.
That’s over 1,800 a year…Imagine eliminating that with just a few minutes of unsubscribing. Efficient, right?
Also, think about each email’s mental load – the subconscious decision-making process of opening, reading, or deleting.
By unsubscribing, you’re reducing visual clutter and cognitive load.
However, the “unsubscribe” button is also a tool for curating a space that serves you.
Keep the things that add value, educate, inspire, or entertain you.
Mastering the Art of Prioritization
Maybe you know the game “I Spy.”
It’s usually a kid’s game, and you try to find that one specific object among a sea of distractions.
Guess what…you may not be a kid anymore, but you are still playing it.
Well, think of prioritizing emails as the grown-up version of that game.
It’s all about discerning what’s truly important amidst the clutter.
Now, you may wonder, how can we separate the wheat from the chaff in our inbox?
That’s where the Eisenhower Matrix comes in.
It’s a time management tool named after President Eisenhower. He is also quoted as saying, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.“
However, while the Eisenhower Matrix is named after him, it’s not clear him having used it.
Also, it’s not verified that he’s the source of the above words. It’s more likely from former college president Miller (source).
But I digress…No matter if Eisenhower used it, the Eisenhower matrix is a great prioritization tool.
It’s a simple four-quadrant grid that helps categorize tasks (or emails, in our case) into:
Urgent and important, not urgent but important, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important.
So it looks like this:
Applying this matrix to your inbox can be a game-changer.
Urgent and important emails are responded to immediately.
Important but not urgent ones are scheduled for a later response.
Urgent but not important emails can be delegated if possible.
What about anything that’s neither urgent nor important?
Either delete it or hit that beautiful “unsubscribe” button we discussed earlier.
Mastering this art of prioritization does more than tidy up your inbox.
It fosters efficiency, reduces stress, and aligns your time and energy with your priorities.
It gives you the power to navigate your digital landscape confidently, focusing on what truly requires your attention.
Automation: Your Virtual Assistant
Imagine you walk into your office and your assistant hands you important messages, neatly organized.
In the world of email minimalism, this isn’t just a dream…Here the personal assistant is an automation tool.
Most email platforms offer features like filters and rules that can automatically sort, flag, or even respond to emails based on criteria you set.
For instance, in Gmail, you can set up filters to direct emails from your boss to a special folder, flag emails with certain keywords, or automatically archive promotional emails after a certain period.
You can also use automated responses for common queries to save time.
There are also third-party tools that can take automation to the next level, handling tasks like unsubscribing from unwanted newsletters or summarizing less important emails into a daily digest.
For instance, I use the following three tools…
- SaneBox: SaneBox uses AI to analyze your email behavior and automatically filter unimportant emails out of your inbox, summarizing them in a daily digest.
- Unroll.Me: This tool automatically identifies all your email subscriptions and allows you to unsubscribe from them in one go or roll them up into a single daily digest email.
- Boomerang for Gmail: Boomerang allows you to schedule emails for later, send follow-up reminders, and even pause your inbox.
Dedicated Email Time
It’s a beautiful morning. You’ve just started work, ready to take on a big project.
Then, ping…an email arrives.
It’s not urgent, but you answer anyway. Why? Well, it did a good job of acting as if it were urgent and important.
Back to work… ping…another email.
This is a classic case of what you can call “email interruptus”.
It is constant email notifications disrupting your workflow, leading to lower productivity.
What’s the antidote? Dedicated email time and turn off those notifications…
So you want to allocate specific time slots to check and respond to emails.
This might sound too simple, but it’s also effective and not as easy to do as it sounds if you are used to constantly checking…
There is a study I already mentioned in my article about mindful and healthy social media use.
This study found that it takes 23 minutes to regain focus after an interruption.
That’s a lot of wasted time if you check emails throughout the day…No wonder everyone now seems to have 18-hour work days.
So instead of letting yourself constantly interrupt, try dedicating specific times for email.
Maybe it’s an hour in the morning, after lunch, or at the end of the day – whatever works best for your schedule and responsibilities.
Outside of these periods, close your email app and, again, turn off notifications.
This approach provides two-fold benefits.
First, you get uninterrupted time to focus on essential tasks.
Second, when it is email time, you can give your full attention to responding thoughtfully and efficiently.
Remember, email is a tool to help you, not control you. You’re reclaiming your time and focus by choosing when you engage with your inbox.
I know what is expected from you at work may contrast this approach significantly…I will also discuss how you can reduce this email situation at work in a later section.
Regular Email Cleaning
Suppose you were somebody that, instead of cleaning the dishes, just would use a new one each time you eat or drink something.
And depending on the number of dishes you have available (can’t happen to a true minimalist, by the way), one day, you will not find your kitchen anymore because of all the dishes piling up.
At this point, it eventually becomes a Herculean task to clean…
So consider your email inbox like that house. Emails are those dishes. The solution?
Regular email cleaning…
Just like you wouldn’t let dirty dishes overrun your kitchen, don’t let unread or unnecessary emails overrun your inbox.
Regular maintenance helps keep things manageable and efficient.
How do you go about it? Here are a few tactics.
The “Zero Inbox” approach: At the end of each day, strive to leave no emails in your inbox. Sounds ambitious, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature.
By the way, the “Zero Inbox” approach was first coined in 2007 by Merlin Mann.
Regular ‘Unsubscribe’ and ‘Delete’ sweeps: Set aside time each week to unsubscribe from unwanted mailing lists and delete unnecessary emails.
Use the ‘Archive’ button: This is a good approach if you don’t want to delete an email that doesn’t require any action.
Folder or Label system: Create folders or labels for different categories of emails (Work, Personal, Bills, Newsletters) and regularly sort your emails into these—this way, you know exactly where everything is.
How to Cut Down on Emails at Work?
Work emails can feel like Hydra, the mythological creature that grew two new heads for each cut-off.
As I mentioned in the earlier section about dedicated email time. The latter can clash easily with the work culture you may have at work.
So you may only be able to gradually change your new approach to minimalist email communication at work if everybody else expects you to use your inbox as a live chat.
Here are some tips to slay the beast of excessive work emails:
Direct Communication: Why write an email if a colleague sits next to you? A quick chat can resolve issues faster and build better rapport.
Meeting Minutes: Ever seen a chain of emails attempting to recall what was discussed in a meeting? Circulating a summary post-meeting can nip this in the bud.
Clarity is Key: Be clear, concise, and actionable in your emails to avoid unnecessary back-and-forths. Remember, every great email answers the “5 Ws”: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
Centralize Information: Use shared documents or project management tools where everyone can access updates instead of sending status emails.
Respect “Off” Time: Encourage a culture where it’s okay not to respond to non-urgent emails after work hours.
“No Email” Days: Some companies have successfully adopted this policy, where one day of the week is email-free, forcing staff to communicate differently and reducing email reliance.
Taming the email Hydra at your workplace doesn’t happen overnight. Still, with these strategies, you can start to make gradual changes.
Minimalist Email Templates
Let’s think of emails as mini-meetings.
If a meeting is dragging on without clear objectives, you’re itching to get out, right?
The same goes for emails.
People appreciate clarity, brevity, and purpose.
Statistics in the marketing world state that the ideal email length is 50 to 125 words.
Staying within this ideal word limit is difficult, but minimalist email templates can help.
The beauty of a minimalist email is its simplicity.
It says what needs to be said and nothing more, respecting the reader’s time and attention.
Here’s a basic structure you can use…:
1. Greeting: A simple “Hi [Name],” works fine.
2. Purpose: State your email’s purpose right away. “I’m writing to…”
3. Context or Details: Provide the necessary details to understand the purpose. Keep it short and straightforward.
4. Call to Action: What do you need from the reader? If you need them to take action, say it clearly.
5. Closing: A simple “Thanks,” or “Best,” followed by your name.
By using this template, you’re not only saving your own time but also showing respect for the recipient’s time and cognitive load.
The Minimalist Email Signature
An email signature is often considered a digital business card, right?
However, in the quest for professionalism, we sometimes end up with signatures resembling a mini-autobiography.
So the signature may go so far as to surpass the ideal email word limit of 150 on its own.
But does everyone need to know your fax number (what’s a fax number?), office address, and where to find you on every social media platform?
Using a minimalist email signature seems like a better approach instead…
It is crisp, clean, and contains only essential information.
Here’s what you might include:
- Name: This is non-negotiable.
- Title and Company: This adds context, especially for first-time correspondents.
- Phone Number: A direct line of contact, if needed.
- Email Address: Sounds redundant, but it’s helpful if your email is forwarded.
- Website or LinkedIn: Pick the online presence that best represents your professional image. Here you can list all your other social media links.
No long quotes, no fancy designs, just plain, useful information.
Minimalist Email Clients and Apps
Minimalist email clients can help you keep your inbox tidy.
But what makes an email client minimalist?
A minimalist email client prioritizes simplicity and functionality.
It cuts out the clutter, presenting a clean, intuitive interface that focuses on what’s essential – your emails.
Here are a few features you might expect:
1. Clean Interface: No excessive buttons, icons, or tabs. Just a straightforward, user-friendly design.
2. Focused Inbox: This feature separates essential emails from the rest, helping you focus on what matters.
3. Basic Organization Tools: Labels, folders, or tags to keep your emails sorted.
4. Efficient Search: An effective search tool to swiftly find what you need.
5. Minimal Notifications: Avoids unnecessary distractions by only alerting you about important emails.
6. Privacy Features: Encryption and other privacy features to protect your communication.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial team. It has been approved for publication per our editorial policy.