It’s time to implement the “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” to your inbox: Obtaining Inbox 0
Is the current amount of emails in your inbox daunting? Did you let out an audible groan? Does the number of unopened emails make you cringe, cry, or possibly envelops you in a sea of guilt? Does attaining “Inbox 0” seem as elusive as capturing a white whale?
Inbox 0 (having 0 unread emails) is not a badge of honor if it isn’t representative of an effective time management system that improves your productivity and lessens email management anxiety.
Email management should not be a task that strikes fear (or resentment) in your heart. Done well it should leave you feeling powerful and in control. Proper email management allows you to organize your day more intentionally and proactively then just ignoring the growing emails in your inbox or constantly being distracted from work by the ding of a new email coming in.
There are a plethora of email management strategies, so many in fact that is it is enough to stress you out while trying to stay on top of your ever-growing inbox. A little counterproductive, right? Don’t worry, with a relatively small investment of time, your inbox will be empty, your workday will be more productive and your life (hopefully) less stressful.
Here are FIVE basic rules to email management to keep in mind throughout your journey to Inbox 0:
SCHEDULE specific times throughout the day to read and respond to emails. Instead of having your email always open on your computer, which may lead to absentmindedly checking for emails every 5 min (not very productive); give yourself specific times to check emails and STICK TO THEM! At the pre-appointed time, check your emails in oldest received to newest received to prevent any emails being accidentally overlooked by the daily barrage to your inbox.
A good rule of thumb is to employ the Pomodoro technique of working in 25 minute sprints and then taking a 5 minute break. During that time don’t let your inbox distract you and (as counterintuitive as it may seem) do not check your email during the 5 minute break. After you have completed 4 cycles (100 minutes of work and 20 minutes of break time) take a 20 minute break. Use the last 5-10 minutes of this break to check and answer emails. You´ll find yourself getting more work done, feeling less stressed and still handling emails in a more professional manner.
Perhaps your first hour in the office is a time utilized for reading emails that came in after working hours and responding to emails that you didn’t get to the day before. Depending on how busy you are or how in demand your inbox is, you may need multiple times throughout the day to manage your emails.
In addition to your first hour of work, you may need to utilize the first 15 minutes of every hour to check, read and respond to emails. You may also need to utilize the last 30 minutes of the workday for email management. Be sure to turn off all notifications for emails on your computer, and on your phone, so you won’t be tempted to check emails outside of the designated schedule.
Hot Tip: If you have an important email you’re expecting create a special notification for that sender only.
DELETE as many new messages as possible or archive them. It’s time to discard JUNK mail or unsubscribe from those mailing lists you never read through.. While the principal sounds easy enough, the practice is often not as simple as it sounds.
Using the following prompts decide for yourself if that email can be archived.
- Does the email require any action on your part? If no, archive the message immediately.
- If the email is junk mail that somehow slipped past your SPAM filter, then deleting it immediately is obvious and easy.
However, sometimes it isn’t obvious or easy:
- Be sure to unsubscribe from every list-based email you are on. Unless it is truly necessary and beneficial it’s time to let that timesuck go. Alternatively, think about giving out a different email address for newsletters or reward programs.
- For recurring emails that are a bit more difficult to unsubscribe from set up filters that automatically tuck these emails out of the way. For example, Gmail’s Inbox has built-in sections like “Promos,” “Social,” and “Updates” that can be set to appear only once daily or once weekly.
- Are you are trapped on a dreaded “ reply-all” email that is going nowhere? This is the perfect opportunity to utilize your email service’s mute or ignore button to basically unsubscribe from the email chain. What if the email chain has relevant information to you amidst all of the irrelevant ¨reply-all¨ responses? Instead of archiving the entire email thread you can implement Streak´s thread splitter function which allows you to save the emails that are relevant to you and archive the rest.
FORWARD as many messages as possible that can be answered better by someone else. We all receive emails that have little or nothing to do with our job. Knowing when to be a team player and when to forward to someone more experienced is key. Instead of spending your time trying to solve a problem that you don’t have the authority or expertise to resolve FORWARD the email to someone who is in a position to solve the problem. Include a short sentence or two to give context. Be sure to respond to the original email sender with a quick response that their email has been received and is being directed to another team member who can more effectively respond (CC said person to the email as well). This way you remain helpful, professional and (hopefully) you slow the influx of misdirected emails toward your inbox.
RESPOND immediately to emails that can be answered in 2 minutes or less.
- Keep the majority of your emails short and sweet. Think of emails as messages akin to texts. Keep the messages succinct and to the point. Ask the question or give the answer—that’s it. Of course remain professional. But cut out all of the unnecessary “throat clearing” fluff most people write before they get down to the nitty-gritty. As you have probably experienced, sometimes the whole point of the e-mail is lost amid the fluff and pleasantries–which then requires more emails and time to decipher. Obviously, some emails require more detail and content, but as you probably already recognize, most don’t.
- Meet your new best friend: email templates! No matter if it is for personal or professional endeavors we all have a series of emails that we repeatedly type over and over again. It can be responding to a standing meeting, accepting an invitation, making an introduction or requesting information or a document from a client or colleague. Take time to set up a template (something that most email services provide) and regain your time and sanity with a few button clicks.
SET ASIDE messages that require more than 2 minutes to respond. Flag them or place them in a specifically labeled folder (“To Do” or “Respond Later”). Schedule a time during the day where you set aside time to delve deep into these emails giving them the time and consideration that they require. A good time might be during a mid-day 30-minute email management break or at the end of the workday. This is a great opportunity to utilize Gmail’s (or your email provider’s) snooze feature which allows you to pick a time in the future to review/respond to the email. Later this afternoon, Friday, Monday morning or two months from now.
Implementing these 5 email management tips will allow you successfully to manage your email more efficiently by tackling it in a small number of intentional and focused moments. You’ll be more productive with the rest of your day without the constant barrage of inbox interruptions, plus you’ll be able to boast views of nothing new in your inbox.