How to Keep from Being Overwhelmed by Your Email Inbox

After you’ve been freelancing for a few years, you may find that your email inbox is overflowing–even to the point where answering email messages threatens your daily productivity.

Having an email account is vital to the success of most freelancers. After all, email is how many of us communicate with our clients.

But, a disorganized email inbox can easily grow to become a time-sucking nightmare. This is especially true if you are flooded each day with more emails than you can realistically answer.

If you can relate to having a disorganized inbox, then this post is for you. :)

In this post, I’ll discuss seven effective techniques for taming your email system. Keep in mind that I am not recommending a specific email system. Most of these tips will work with most popular email systems.

7 Tips to Tame Your Inbox

If processing your email is starting to take too much time, try using one, or more, of these tips to get it under control:

  1. Use Rules and Folders–Many popular email systems allow you to create a rule to automatically send certain email messages to a specific folder. This feature is particularly good for managing subscriptions and other recurring emails. It keeps the specified messages together in a single folder and out of your inbox. When you are ready to read them, they are all together.
  2. Keep Separate Accounts–Chaos can result if you try to operate from a single email account. This is particularly true if you give out your email information in a marketing promotion and it is sold (and resold) to other marketing partners. Personally, I manage four email accounts. I give out one account if I think my information is likely to be resold. Another is only for family and friends. A third is for clients. The final email belongs to a client and is only for their communications.
  3. Publish Your Email Policy (Part 1)–If you can, including your email policy in your contact information can keep you from overlooking potential clients. I include a phrase with my contact information that instructs potential clients to put the words “writing project” in the subject line of the email. Of course, not all clients will do this. But, when they do that email goes to the top of my queue.
  4. Publish Your Email Policy (Part 2)–Another aspect of your email policy that should be made public (along with your contact information) is your response time. Potential clients find it helpful if they know how soon to expect a response. Personally, I normally respond to all client inquiries within one business day (although I often respond much more quickly).
  5. Find a Spam Filter–Spam filters can eliminate many unnecessary emails. There several excellent spam filters on the market, and many email packages already have a spam filter built in. Find the best spam filter for your needs, learn how it works, and use it.
  6. Report Spam–Even the best spam filters sometimes allow a spam message to slip through. The natural thing to do when this occurs is to delete the message without reporting it. However, if you do this then the spammer is likely to send another spam message to your account. If you report spam to email provider, then they can block the sender and adjust their filter accordingly.
  7. Use Email Alternatives–Some services (such as providing technical support for urgent situations) are not well suited to email. If your clients need to be able to contact you immediately you may consider providing a dedicated phone number or even using IM (instant messaging) to give them better access in addition to your regular email.

Other Tips for Handling Email

Taming your email can be quite a task, but it can be done. Here are some other resources on Freelance Folder to help you use your email more efficiently:

Your Turn

How do you manage your email inbox? Share your best tips in the comments.


  1. says

    It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by emails. I used to check my inbox every hour because I was worried I would miss something but soon realized this was impractical. Now I limit checking my professional email to 3-4 times a day. I’m much more productive this way and I still have time to respond to all the important emails. Thanks, Laura!

  2. says

    I have also learn not to be in the inbox all day.. there is more product6ive things to be doing than checking the inbox..

    I have auto responders and this is the way I use to trigger when something important arrives.

  3. says

    Great tips! One of my own is to only check the email at certain times of my working day. This is really hard to do, because when you’re waiting to hear back from a big client, you really watch that inbox. So, I try to close that tab and only open it at a certain time, say two hours from now.

  4. says

    No doubt, it’s very tempting to check email every ten minutes, especially if i am waiting for that one important email.

    Personally i somehow do not like to receive emails from auto-responders, when i receive auto-response it’s always the same: “wow! that’s a fast response … no wait, that’s just an auto-response ehhh”, plus i think it dehumanizes communication a little bit.

    The only exception are “vacation messages”, when i will be unable to answer an email for about a week.

  5. says

    Lee–I’ve found that I catch most emails if I check first thing in the morning and at the close of business.

    Greg, Autoresponders ARE annoying. The sad thing about them is that most of them are obviously not coming from a human–so instead of reassuring the recipient that the email has been read, it actually shows them that it has not been read.

    John–LOL. Got a keep an eye on that inbox. It can be a sneaky time-thief.

  6. says

    Nothing beats a really good spam filter. At present, the e-mail client I use on my host’s mailservers doesn’t allow redirecting emails to specific folders. I’m in an inbox rut right now, and I manually move them. It’s not highly efficient, but I’ve survived so far. I’m working on fleshing out an explicit e-mail policy for my next major portfolio makeover.

  7. says

    angelee–I certainly appreciate the thought behind that. It’s not a good idea to let too many messages build up. At the same time I have this mental picture of a guy getting up in the middle of the night just to clear out his email inbox–yikes! Not pretty. :)

    TheAL, Yes! Spam filters are an essential. It always surprises me how many people don’t know that yet.

  8. says

    Laura, this post is a life-saver… as my inbox is threatening to push me to the edge of sanity, haha. The worse thing about having multiple email accounts is forgetting the password ( plus all those answers to that security question you chose a long time ago ). I wonder how I can cut the hour each day I spend on email to 30 minutes as I feel so drained of energy after reading and typing replies. Sometimes, I can even take 30 minutes to answer a single email. I guess, I’ll have to manage my time better. Thanks for your tips!

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing this fantastic article! I’ve only been freelancing for a year now and over the last month I’ve found it hard at times to keep up with email.

    Thanks for the tips, I’m going to look at another solution to solve this.


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