Is “Inbox Zero” a real possibility? I never would have thought so, but I’m close! So very, very close! And you can be too! Up until just last week I suffered from very real inbox woes with well over 10,000 emails sitting in my account. I cringed every time I looked at my email, dreading the number of new emails coming in on a daily, even hourly basis.
Does that sound at all familiar to you? Hopefully you haven’t left email sitting in your account for years like I discovered I had! I always had the best of intentions, but along with that came finding the dreaded buried email that I’d missed seeing and never replied to. Yikes.
Following are 5 tips that I’m now utilizing daily to conquer my inbox!
1. Schedule Time To Check Your Email Throughout Your Day
Most of us hear those notifications come in and rush to see the email we just received, taking up our valuable time. The better way is to put your ignore cap on, and schedule blocks of time throughout your day to check your email. You schedule meetings in specific time frames, right? So do the same with your email! 10 or 15 minute email checks may very well save your sanity. Starting off, you may need to consider longer periods, even up to 3 x 30 minutes per day to handle your inbox. Once you’ve got the rest of your inbox set up and operating efficiently, you can scale back on the time needed.
Additionally, setting up a block of time once per week to perform maintenance on your inbox is another great idea. Clear out junk mail, archive completed completed items, and prioritize your to-do list. If you’re not already using an app or add on to track your time, now might be a good time to check them out. Even just setting a timer or alarm on your phone will work too!
The best tip I can give you regarding this, is TURN OFF YOUR EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS!! Seriously, it’s one last distraction that you don’t need in your life, especially when you know you’ll be checking your emails at at 10 am, 1 pm and 3 pm!
2. Get Organized! Utilize Folders, Labels and Rules
Depending on which email client you utilize, you will be able to set up a custom system to have emails automatically skip your inbox and go right into the appropriate folder.
For example, I have several folders in my business inbox: Action (my important things), Pending, To-Do, Completed and Non-Essential. These are the ones that I use on a daily basis, and move emails around in. You can also create main categories with others “nested” under it, like “Clients” or “Projects”. The better your filing system, the easier it is to find exactly what you need, when you need it.
3. Use The 2 Minute Rule
Made popular by David Allen, the author of “Getting Things Done”, the 2 minute rule when applied to email management simply means that if you can read and reply within 2 minutes, then get it done. After all, it’ll will take you just about as long to move it into your Action folder, so reply right away and forget about it.
The danger with this is lack of focus. You sit down with every intention of cleaning out your email and suddenly you remember an item you have to add to your shopping list.. so off you go, because that will take less than 2 minutes. And then you remember that you have a family bbq tomorrow afternoon, but think they’re calling for rain, so off you go to check the weather. Before you know it, it’s 3 hours later and not only did you not clear your inbox, you’ve now received another 20 emails.
Be specific. You are only applying the 2 Minute Rule to your inbox during your schedule email management time.
4. Create Templates For Replies You Send Often
Writing the same information over and over again is not effective use of your time. If you find yourself writing similar messages often, you may want to consider creating email templates that you can access quickly and send off to it’s intended recipient.
I often receive emails inquiring about my work availability, so I’ve created a template that I can tweak where needed to send. This is a huge time saver!
I recently discovered Gorgias, an awesome Google Chrome add on that supports both Gmail, Outlook and more. Have a look:
5. Remember The 80/20 Rule For Email Management
You may already be familiar with the Pareto Principle, that roughly states 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes. When we apply this principle to our inbox, we realize that only about 20% of the emails we receive are worth our attention while the remaining 80% are very low priority.
Most email clients today have the ability of learning about what you consider spam. When you receive an email that you didn’t subscribe to receive and it’s unwanted, click that little spam icon to let your email client know. This will help.
Also be sure you’re not just deleting emails from lists you may have subscribed to but are no longer interested in. By law, all legitimate emails must have a way to unsubscribe from the list, which can usually be found near the bottom of the email. Take a minute to unsubscribe from these mailing lists to ensure you stop receiving them. Yes, this can take some time to achieve, but the end results towards your Inbox Zero goal make it worthwhile.
Finally, at the end of every work day, empty the trash bin! It will be satisfying to know that you’ve created a productive atmosphere where there was once chaos.