Email can be a great way to stay in touch, improve productivity, and easily take care of personal business, but it can also be a big frustration and a huge waste of time if it is not well managed. As more people complain about the time they spend dealing with email, new services and tools have popped up to make email experiences more enjoyable and productive.
Here are a few favorites that you can use for free to improve your daily email check in.
Choose the best email interface
Just because you get a free email account from a provider or service such as Comcast, Cox, Charter, Verizon, CenturyLink, or AT&T doesn’t mean you have to use it. If you do decide to use that account, there may be better options to open, read, and manage your email with a more public service, including one you may already have — it may not be worth it to jump to a new service. Gmail, Apple Mail, and Outlook all give you the option to completely change what your inbox looks like, or even access your messages with a different app, without changing your email address.
Adding your email account to Gmail, Apple Mail, and Outlook is possible with a technology called POP3 or IMAP. POP3 and IMAP are computer interfaces that allow email programs to fetch messages from your email account no matter who provides the account.
You can find your POP3 or IMAP settings from your current email provider’s website or customer support. Comcast’s Xfinity is a popular email program that you may want to access externally. Setting up Comcast requires entering “mail.comcast.net” in the incoming mail (POP3, IMAP or HTTP) server field and “smtp.comcast.net” in the Outgoing mail (SMTP) server field. Then follow these instructions to connect:
Enter your XFINITY username in the Account Name field. (Type your XFINITY username as seen on the left side of the @ symbol in your email address. For example, if your email address is email@example.com, type in johndoe.) In the Password field, enter your password.
Send it later
Some emails should go out right away, but other times you want to follow up at a later date. Unlike snail mail, which gives you a little bit of time before the letter is received, an email is received almost instantly. With new tools, however, you can write an email and schedule to send at any date in the future.
If you use Gmail, you can add a send it later feature with one of several plugins. Installing the Boomerang plugin is the easiest and quickest way to add a send it later button. Outlook users can follow this guide, and Apple Mail users can follow the guide here.
Get inside information
Sometimes you get an email from someone you don’t know very well. In this case, you could Google them or ask around, but there are faster and better tools thanks to new technologies and plugins.
The best options are built for Gmail users, as over 1 billion people use Gmail. That is one out of every seven people on earth! The two best plugins to learn about who you are chatting with are Rapportive and Clearbit.
Rapportive connects with LinkedIn and other social networks to tell you the position, location, and other information about the other parties in an email message. Clearbit Connect is a newer plugin that offers more information about your contact’s company and can help you find emails of virtually anyone who works at a large company.
Automatically track your trips and packages
When you shop or plan a trip online, you will by default get a series of emails giving you reminders, updates, and other information. Most people don’t know you can automatically filter those messages and get your important trip and package information in a handy app instead of keeping the messages clogging up your inbox.
Every time you reserve a flight or hotel, you likely get an email with the details. Apps TripIt and TripCase both automatically grab those emails and load the information into a handy app that you can use to navigate your adventures.
For packages, Gmail and Android users already get important shipping updates automatically, but anyone can upgrade their package tracking with Slice. Slice tracks your packages based on email receipts and keeps tabs on your purchases to help you get money back if you qualify for an eligible refund from a price drop.
Never delete an email again
If you have a corporate job, you have likely received an automatic reply from a coworker at some point that says, “sorry, this recipient’s inbox is full.” While you can’t always get a bigger inbox at work, the days of inbox size limits are gone for our personal email accounts.
Gmail users get 15 gigabytes of storage for free. The average email is measured in kilobytes. Assuming your average message is around 30 kilobytes, you can safely archive 500,000 messages in Gmail without running out of space. Clicking archive instead of delete means you can always search and find that email quickly in the future.
Other popular, free email services have similarly large inboxes, if not bigger. Yahoo! Mail comes with a free terabyte (that’s about 1,000 gigabytes). Outlook.com, formerly known as Hotmail, technically offers an unlimited inbox, but users with different account types may find themselves hitting a wall depending on how they use the account.
End each day at inbox zero
Some people like to use their inbox as a to do list, with each message acting as a reminder to follow up. Others prefer to end the day with an empty inbox so they can start each day fresh. Thanks to some powerful tools, it is easier than ever to unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters, filter out spam, and send each message where it needs to go.
To quickly get off of email lists, check out Unroll.me. The free app allows you to bundle newsletters into a single digest email or unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters.
Most every email service today offers a spam button. Use it to mark unwanted and unwarranted emails as spam. Email accounts learn over time what is spam and what isn’t, and get better and better at filtering out bad emails.
Most email services also allow you to create labels and filters to automatically handle emails depending on rules you set. For example, I use Gmail filters to automatically delete unwanted messages from the big social networks I was unable to turn off. To help others reach inbox zero, I created this free, one week course.
Create a personal system to make email easy
Every time you open an email, you have a choice. Do you want to respond, delete, or click the “mark as unread” button to come back later. While you have the best of intentions, it is easy to bury an email in your inbox for months. Avoid opening the same email again and again by creating systems to deal with them and move on so you can focus your time where you want most, which probably isn’t your email account.
Entrepreneurship guru Chris Ducker shares that every time an email lands in his inbox he decides between the 3 Ds: do, delete, or delegate. If you let emails linger in your inbox, it can become overwhelming to manage. Keeping your inbox clear of clutter makes it a more enjoyable and efficient experience.
Saving time on email is easy
In the 2010s and beyond, it seems that email is here to stay. If you take a few steps to save time and make yourself more productive, you will likely find email to be a much better experience. Even better, every tool in this list is free! You can quickly add muscle power to your inbox without spending a dollar. In an era where time is money, saving is easy by using free tools to improve your inbox.
READ MORE: 4 Tips to Organize Your Email Inbox