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Get Out of Your Inbox

Checking email is a compulsion. We feel the need to constantly see who has emailed us, what’s happening, and reply immediately.

It’s a freelancer’s curse. 

We need our email to get work, but we need to get OUT of our email to get work done.

How to get out of your inbox.

After being a slave to my inbox for two years, I finally found a system that helps me stay on top of my inbox, without spending all day in it.

Set times to check (and respond to) your email

This isn’t a new idea, and freelancer’s have been touting the benefits for years. But it’s hard to implement. The constant notifications or compulsion to check can drive you nuts. Try three times a day to start (morning, after lunch, and before you sign off for the night) and wean yourself down to once or twice a day later.

Pause your inbox

If you need to focus, there’s nothing like Inbox Pause to keep your inbox quiet. You can also use it to keep notifications from coming in outside of your email hours.

I use Inbox Pause to keep me from checking email constantly, and every evening to keep me from checking emails when I’m not “at work”. It’s a life saver and makes it much easier to get real work done.

Schedule emails to send later

I love Streak for scheduling emails. Just because you CAN reply immediately, doesn’t mean you should.

Use Streak to schedule emails to send only during your office hours (if you happen to be in your inbox outside them), or prevent your email from turning into a chat box.

Often, when we reply immediately to clients, they think that we will ALWAYS reply to their emails immediately. With Streak you can write the email but schedule it to send in an hour, two hours, the next day, or even next week. This helps set realistic expectations for your clients, and still lets you churn out that email that’s been hanging over your head all night.

Set an auto-responder

Not one of those obnoxious “I check emails at 8am, 12pm, and 3pm” ones. No one cares, and no one wants to get that email every single time they contact you.

Instead, I find an auto-responder set to send no more than twice a week outlining your office hours and email response time to be very effective and rarely annoying.

Feel free to steal my format:

Thanks for emailing!

My office hours…
Monday-Thursday, 10am-5pm eastern time.

If it’s the weekend or a holiday…
I don’t work on weekends or holidays, so I’ll get back to you during the work week. Thanks for being patient!

If it’s the work week…
I’m probably neck-deep in coding a website right now, please see below for average response time.

New clients and new requests from past clients…
I’ll get back to you within 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) to discuss your project and my availability!

Current clients and retainer clients…
I’ll get back to you ASAP, usually within 24 hours or less (excluding weekends and holidays) so we can keep your project moving along!

I am unable to handle emergencies except for clients who have hosting with me.
If you’re one of those clients, please call or text me–my cell number is on your invoice. I will work on getting your problem fixed ASAP!

If you do not have hosting with me please contact Nikole – She’s great, and tackling emergencies is her thing!

Thank you!

This format works because it’s not sent EVERY time someone emails me (so it’s not annoying) but it lets clients know what to expect. It also covers emergency requests, which lets clients know what to do, or who to contact which lets ME relax and stay out of my inbox.

No more, “what if a client needs me?!” panic–they know what to do if they need to get in touch.

Stop being a slave to your inbox. Take action and take control today. You’ll be happier and more productive. I promise.

Let us know in the comments what tricks you use to stay out of your inbox!

Erin Flynn Erin E Flynn has been making websites since the dark ages of the internet (1999), and running her own web development business since 2012. A huge fan of streamlining and communication, Erin now helps coach new designers in simplifying their businesses and making more money. When she’s not glued to her computer screen, you can find Erin hiking, camping, or binge-watching Netflix. Find her online at, or join her Unstoppable Crew to take control of your design business!

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Great post! Streak has been a total game changer for me. I love it! I will have to check out inbox pause. Thanks for the tips!

  • It is so freeing to think about email in this way. Since I am a new designer, I always want to be everything to my clients ALLLLL the time. I can’t tell you how many 2am support emails that I felt compelled to fix immediately! And I just get repaid with more 2am emails, because I tolerate it! Definitely got to pump the breaks!

    • No good deed… the more often you reply to those 2am emails the more clients expect it. Pump those breaks!

  • Hi Erin! Great advice! What do you use to set your autoresponder up so that it only sends twice a week? I’ve always wanted to try out using one but didn’t want to annoy my clients/potential clients.

    • Thanks! You should have the option on your auto-responder setup. Gmail won’t send more than once every 4 days and I’m not sure you can change it. Others should have something like, “Number of days between vacation notices to the same sender” or an “Interval” of hours or days. It just depends on what you’re using.

  • Excellent article, Erin. These tricks are important to get rid of the compulsion to check your inbox all the time. Saves all the distraction! Thanks, Niraj

  • Love the article, but I’m not a huge fan of autoresponders in any case. As an alternative, I’d recommend each of your clients getting a copy of that information when you start working with them, and perhaps an abbreviated version right above your contact form so new clients and leads know what to expect.

    • I’m not a huge fan of auto-responders either, which is why mine doesn’t get sent every time someone emails me. Annoying!

      I do also send this information in welcome packets, and have it included on a thank you page after someone submits my contact form. Heck, I even have it in many of my contracts!

      The thing is, not everyone contacts me via my contact form, and I get a lot of repeat customers or people simply asking questions directly to my email address–so having an autoresponder (as much as I tried to avoid it for years) is a huge help in reminding people that I don’t live in my inbox. 😉

  • Great post, Erin.

    As with anything, auto-response should be set up and used with the proper intent and purpose. You’ve nailed that. Auto-response can easily be turned on and off with a click of the mouse, in most instances. So when it’s time to put your head down and code or schedule posts, you can start with a quick click to auto-respond.

    Already using Inbox Pause per your recommendation. Keep the valuable reads coming!

    • Thanks Mallie!

      Yes–nothing worse than autoresponders that tell someone nothing or are sent after EVERY email. Use them with care!

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