How To: Managing Your Inbox As A Writer

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Regardless of the industry you're in, email overwhelm is something everyone is familiar with. Whether you're on too many email threads, subscribed to newsletters, or work in an office where “reply all” is customary, it's normal to wish people could only reach you by carrier pigeon at times.

As a freelance writer, you don't get domain emails for clients that you work with — meaning if you didn't differentiate a dedicated work email when you first started, everything is lumped together into one messy Gmail inbox (guilty ✋).

However, now that I'm getting the hang of things, I've actually come up with a system that works really well for me. I'm by no means an expert, but if you're looking for some tips for inbox management (writer or not!), these might help:

ONE: Start with everything in the same place.

This might be counterintuitive to everything you've read, but personally, I hate when auto filters move things around. It makes me feel like things are sneaking up on me and I'm always worried something is slipping through the cracks. I prefer to have a big picture overview of everything that's going on and what needs to get done, so I keep everything routed to my main inbox at first. From there, my action on the message is either delete (unnecessary), filter (no response necessary) or mark it unread (to respond). A caveat to this is the promotions and social filter, but more on that next...

TWO: Become BFFs with your unsubscribe button.

I know it can be hard to part with that random newsletter that includes cute dog pictures or that one store marketing list that occasionally has really great sales, but think of guarding your inbox as guarding your time. I do enjoy the Social and Promotion filters Gmail offers because it allows me to consume the newsletters I do care about on my own time instead of their content calendar schedule. If it brings you joy, stay on the mailing list—just don't accidentally waste hours paging through 5% off sales you'll never buy from!

THREE: Folders, folders, folders.

This is a bit tedious, but I create a folder for every client I work with. This is the easiest way to keep track of every communication, when invoices were sent, etc., while allowing me to filter everything out of my main inbox. Additionally, I create personal folders for things such as order confirmations, flight itineraries, etc. so those are out of the inbox as well. For a while, I had a few lingering messages that didn't fit into any of these buckets, but then I created an “Etcetera” folder for all of those, too 😂. Once I read/reply to the message, I just drag it into its folder so it's out of my main page!

FOUR: Don't be reactive.

I guess this is a “productivity hack” or whatever, but for me, it's just hard to switch focus when I'm writing. If I'm in the middle of an article and I get an email concerning another client, taking the time to read it and formulate a response can totally throw me off. If something looks important I'll read it immediately, but otherwise, I wait until I'm between tasks and check what's come in. This way I'm able to take my time, process my thoughts, and manage my workflow much better than if I immediately fired off a one-liner to everything that came my way!

Amanda McDowell