Free The Inbox!

January 27, 2009

I realize that email management can be a personal thing. That being said, I am shocked how many people are buried in their inboxes with tons of emails. When I hear that people have over 7000 emails in their inbox, it actually makes me shudder. I don’t understand how these people feel that they are not bombarded with this flood of messages. I have read the GTD stuff and listened to the Inbox Zero presentation by Merlin Mann and I have taken from each of those philosophies to come up with something that works for me, so I thought I would share what does work for me in case it might work for you.

Clean Out That Inbox!

The Inbox can be a lot of things for a lot of people. It can be a to-do list, a storage space, a place for intimidating replies wait to be written and more. The biggest change I made was clearing out all of those things from my Inbox.

For the to-do list things, I put them in a to-do list! Since my Inbox cannot easily be my only to-do list, I have to move stuff out of there. (Quick Plug: Things for the Mac is fantastic for to-dos AND has a quick entry shortcut that allows you to easily make a new to-do from anywhere in the OS). For the storage space, I have a folder that all emails I want to keep, but don’t need to do anything with go in.  It is called Work Stuff, but it could also be called Archive, Old, Stuff I Need, etc. The important thing is that it is one mailbox. Not 56 folders nested to make the most organized structure I can think of, 1 folder. 1 folder + search = I can find any email relatively easily. If there is a really important email that I need to find quickly, I can even take the step of flagging it.  I do this infrequently though as I want to make sure I can find what I really need easily.

The previous two steps cover 98% of my messages.  The last 2% are in that last category of emails I have to reply to, most of the time something I do not want to do. The best way to resolve this for me is to just write the darn reply. Usually it takes about 2 minutes to get done and then I don’t have to think about it anymore. Pleasant, no, but in the end it makes my life easier.

But But But…!!!

In the last 1 1/2 years I have been using this method, I have been over 10 emails in my inbox at the end of the day about 10 times. Every time this happened, I made sure to tackle it early the next day. This does two things, first it proves to myself I can keep going but more so, it allows me the confidence that I can come back from a week long trip and deal with the 246 emails in my inbox in about an hour. The other thing it does is makes sure my inbox and mind are clear of distractions. If stuff is in my inbox, it is like one big to-do item. Getting it cleaned out gives me piece of mind that I can focus on the real work to get done.

So, with all of that, I present you a challenge to clean out your inbox and try to keep it that way.  Have thousands of emails in there? Dump them all in a folder and give yourself the quick win! If you can keep a clean inbox, I bet you will find work is a little easier and there is a little less background noise to worry about.