Step One: Set up a System
When an email arrives at your inbox, you need to be clear on exactly what needs to be done with it. If you don’t then it piles up and gets out of control – cue stress! This is where having a system in place comes in as it helps you organise each email as it comes with clarity.
1) Create 5 Folders with the following names:
What these folders mean:
_Action: If an email requires a response/action.
- _Waiting: If you need to follow up on email, e.g. you sent a request to colleague and waiting for their response
- _Read/Review: If an email requires you to simply read and review, e.g. emails you are CC’d into, interesting newsletters (hotmail users: replace / sign with – )
- _Reference: If an email contains information you need within reach temporarily, e.g. tracking number for a delivery parcel.
- _Archive: For any emails that do not belong in the categories above & cannot be deleted either. (Gmail/Google Apps users: You can skip creating a folder/label for this and Hotmail users too if you have enabled an Archive folder).
Bonus Tip: Gmail/Google Apps Users
There is this cool feature under ‘Labs’ called multiple inbox feature that allows you to see all your emails categorised when you login.
2 – Labs > Enable multiple inboxes > Save Changes
3 – Multiple Inboxes > Fill out panels (details below) > Show 50 conversations > Below the Inbox > Save Changes
4 – Go to Labels > Create New Labels > Enter in Label Names (details below) > Create
(If you have already created these labels earlier, skip this).
5 – That’s it, you’re all set.
Step Two: Clean Up
Now that you have an awesome system in place, there still remains a deep dark secret *dramatic sound effects*.
What most of us do these days is to just scan through the first few emails at the top of this mess and then log off as fast as you can. If this sounds like you and you’re not too proud of it then this is how you slay your overflowing inbox dragons.
1) Create a Folder called ‘Old Inbox’
Move all the emails from your inbox into this folder.
2) Figure out who is most likely to send you important messages
3) Go back to your ‘Old Inbox’ Folder and Ruthlessly Delete
Without opening up any, scan over the subject lines & move anything that looks important back to your main inbox.
After you do this, do a mass select & delete what remains (begone!!!). Alternatively, if email storage is not an issue for you then mark all the emails as read & move them over the ‘_Archive’ folder (Google Users: Archive them).
… Oh and delete the ‘Old Inbox’ folder as well on the way because if you did this step correctly then there shouldn’t be anything remaining in there.
4) Deal with the emails remaining in your inbox
Set aside some time & process these emails to the system set up above. Does this email require action? File away in _Action. Am I waiting on something? File away in _Waiting. Can I delete this? etc.
Step Three: Maintain Control
Here are some final suggestions and guidelines to help you maintain control of your new shiny clean inbox 🙂
1) Get Rid of Useless Clutter
You know those emails that just add clutter to your inbox? The ones that you don’t find any value in and have no idea how they made their way into your inbox? Well you need to track ‘em down and prevent them from ever reaching your inbox again.
You can manually go through and unsubscribe from them or you can check out a service called unroll.me that helps you identify all the newsletters/emails you have subscribed to over time and unsubscribe from them in one go.
Finally, if you unsubscribe to a particular newsletter with this service and wish to re-subscribe again, you will need to activate it again via unroll.me not through the website that sends you the emails.
2) Remember that Your Mailbox is not a To-Do List
Internalise this and it will revolutionise the way you handle email.
If there was a physical equivalent to your email then it would be this… minus the postman works 24/7 😉
That’s why it is important to sort your emails as it comes and not do things like leaving it in your inbox as a reminder to get it done, your inbox is just not built for that and it will eventually get out of control (i.e. refrain from using it as a To-Do list).
3) Set Aside Times to Check Email
Resist the urge of checking email continuously during the day especially while your working because attention once lost (even for a few minutes) takes time to regain.
4) Quick Action? Do it Straight Away
If an email requires an action that can be completed in less than 2 mins, e.g. a short reply, a small tweak on a project, quick feedback, then just do it straight away. These little things add up and coming back to it again costs you your time and attention. Besides – it always feels good get something done.
5) Turn off Social Media Notifications
Does that LinkedIn notification about your ex-colleague’s new job really matter? Turn it off entirely or select only notifications that are important to you. Maybe you can include these in your roll up?
6) Review Folders Periodically
From time to time look over each folder, move emails that no longer belong and keep things in order.
So there you have it! How to conquer your inbox once and for all. Let me know how it goes!