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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How I Manage Five Inboxes (Without Going Completely Insane)

I have five separate email accounts. Even typing that sentence sent shivers right up my spine—like I just heard nails on a chalkboard or two pieces of Styrofoam rubbing together.

Yes, it’s enough to make me cringe. But, the fact remains the same: I have five of them. I’ll spare you all of the gory details as to how I ended up having so many different inboxes I need to keep tabs on—just know that they all need to be checked on a frequent (ahem, alright, daily) basis.

On any given day, if you were to walk up to me and ask, “Kat, how do you manage to deal with so many?” I would probably respond by bursting into tears, wrapping my arms around myself, and rocking back and forth on my heels while murmuring, “Somebody save me.”

But, I’m not going to do that today. No, my friends. I decided to let that good cry out of my system and then take a magnifying glass to how exactly I get this done without going completely nuts (unless, of course, that above outburst already made me seem certifiably insane).

By reflecting on my own often overwhelming inbox experiences, I’m hoping to turn around and do some good with my torture by helping you discover some actionable strategies that you can implement to make your own email life at least a little bit easier—regardless of how many accounts you have to your name. For your sake, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it’s less than five.

1. I Make Checking My Email a Priority

Email gets a pretty bad rap, especially when it comes to productivity advice. I’ve read so many articles that claim you should close out that browser tab, set specific windows of time when you’ll allow yourself to pop in on your inbox, and all sorts of other tips and tricks that promise to decrease your distractions and boost your efficiency. And, I get it—it can definitely be a total time suck, and you don’t want your inbox to keep you on a short leash.

But, unfortunately, that well-meaning advice just isn’t practical for me. All of my accounts are important, and they simply aren’t going to monitor and manage themselves. They require some elbow grease (and, yes, some frequent checking in) on my end.

It’s for this very reason that I make checking my email a priority throughout my day—at least once right away in the morning, once toward the middle of my day, and once as I’m wrapping things up. I have a specific order that I check them in to ensure that nothing gets missed, and sometimes I’ll even write “check email” as the very first item on my to-do list for that day.

As much as I’d love to tune them all out and focus only on the task at hand, it’s just not a realistic option. Those accounts contain important instructions, to-dos, requests, and reminders. And, if I didn’t make it a point to check each one of them on an ongoing basis? Well, things would undoubtedly slip through the cracks.

So, yes, it might go against the grain of some of the most popular productivity advice you’ve heard time and time again. But, there’s just no way around it—staying in the loop needs to be a priority day in and day out, or things will quickly spiral out of control.

2. I Rely on My Phone

Here’s another one that will likely challenge everything you think you know about productivity. I’ve heard tons of different tips that recommend you keep your phone in a totally separate zip code when you’re attempting to get things done.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely need to keep mine near me throughout my workday. One, because I operate with the understanding that Publisher’s Clearing House is going to call me any day with that long-awaited announcement that I’m a newfound millionaire. And, two, because using it is the best way for me to check in on all of my accounts at once.

Yes, I know there are tons of different hacks and tricks you can use to be logged into multiple inboxes at once on your computer. But, I don’t consider myself particularly tech-savvy. And, honestly, my phone has always seemed way simpler, faster, and—believe it or not—far less distracting.

I have all of my emails within the “Mail” app of my phone, and I can easily and quickly switch between them to see what’s new, without needing to have a bunch of different tabs or windows open on my computer monitor.

So, yes, maybe I fall into the trap of checking my text messages or scrolling through Instagram every now and then. But, in the end, I think keeping my phone on my desk still actually saves me some time.

3. I Have a Purpose for Each

Having so many email accounts seems like something only a crazy person would do—and, most days it feels that way too. However, I think it’s important to note that each one has it’s own unique purpose. I don’t just have five that are all a mess of personal and work-related messages.

I have a personal account, one I use for my freelance-related projects, and even one for my work here at The Muse. They each serve a distinct purpose, which actually makes it easy for me to streamline my approach to these messages.

While I’d never go so far as to recommend that you implement five accounts for yourself, having multiple can actually be somewhat helpful in keeping your digital life organized. You could have one address specifically for job hunting and another for your personal emails, for example. You’ll know what you can expect to receive in each account (aside from those pesky spam messages, of course), which can help you more effectively prioritize your approach to your day.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are times when having five separate email accounts is enough to make me want to tear my hair out. However, I’ve identified a few different strategies that help to make things just a little bit easier—and I think they’re helpful regardless of how many accounts you have yourself (I certainly hope it’s less than five).

Give them a try, and take a little of the stress out of managing that dreaded inbox!

How many email accounts do you have? Let me know on Twitter.

Photo of person looking at email courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.