It’s no secret that I am always looking for ways to better manage my time. I am always looking for ways to make my everyday life tasks a little bit easier, a little bit more streamlined. Today, I want to share with you how I keep my email inbox at zero. Yes, I said zero. I mean it too, there are NO EMAILS in my inbox. It’s empty, and I like it that way. Here’s how I do it.
First off, you have to start by making folders in your email program. I use Yahoo, so I click on “add a folder” and it does. I have made up folders for each of the aspects of my life: School, Home/Family, Alumni (I serve on my alma mater’s Alumni Association), Invoices, Newsletter, and PDP. I also have made up folders called Hold and Follow Up. This list of folders is integral to the success of keeping your inbox empty. To decide what to make for your folders, you should survey the things that you receive email about most frequently, and make folders for them.
Next, you need to sift through what is in your inbox. I worked with a friend recently who had over 3,000 emails in their inbox, dating back to 2005. A lot of those emails, now, are trash. They get dumped right into the trash. The emails that you need to keep, that you may need to reference in the future, get sorted into the folder that matches what they are for. So, for example, if I am sifting through my emails and I find an email inviting me to a meeting from 2009, and then one detailing the notes from the meeting, I will put them invitation in the trash, and file the one detailing the notes from the meeting into my “School” folder. This can take a long time, depending on how many emails you have, and how thorough you want to be. For some, it’s just as easy to highlight all the emails from the previous year and hit delete. I am WAY too obsessive to do that. If you have a lot of emails to get through, take it a little at a time. While you won’t empty your inbox in the first sitting, you’ll know you are working towards it.
Your inbox is empty!! Wait, sorry…just checked, there are five more emails. This is the most crucial time in keeping your inbox empty. This is the make it or break it point. It would be so easy to read the emails and leave them there, but then our purpose would be defeated. You have to face it. That’s where my “Follow Up” and “Hold” folders come into play. As you go through your emails, anything you can do in less than three minutes…do now and file the email. Anything that you can respond to right away, respond to and file the email. Newsletters and emails from stores and such…look them over, and then delete them. If you need to purchase something from the shop or want information from their page, bookmark it. Emails that have you waiting on something, but you don’t need to do anything about it, go into the “Hold” folder. This folder often holds receipts of items I am waiting to receive, or notices of shipment. Any email that requires you to do something that will take longer than three minutes, goes into the follow up folder (and ideally, onto your to do list). After you have done this, your email inbox SHOULD be empty. Take a minute. Look it over. Isn’t it nice and clean? It’s like a clean bathroom…it just makes you feel happy. Just like any clean bathroom, however, your empty inbox requires daily maintenance and upkeep. Like I said earlier, in order to keep your inbox empty, you have to commit to doing these tasks with every email. If you leave even one in your inbox, you are on the downward spiral to 3,000 emails in your inbox. Believe me, I’ve been there too.
My system of keeping a clean inbox is inspired by the readings I have done in “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, and by THIS POST over at Lifehacker. It’s important to remember that not every system works for everyone. It’s important to find what works for you and go with it.
So tell me what you think? Is an empty email inbox important to you? How do you keep your inbox clean and working efficiently? Let me know in the comments!