For a while now (like 2+ years) I have been sitting on chaos of email and had large amounts of unread messages and many that have been lost in the shuffle. This has been a huge headache, very frustrating and massively discouraging. Remember that day in art class in junior high where your teacher brought out the canvas and painted right there in front of you or maybe sculpted something out of clay and it look amazing. You looked at what she had accomplished and were just stricken with this overwhelming feeling that you could never do something even remotely like that. It was at that time that you thought that this would maybe be the one class that you would fail and mess up your GPA. Well, that is often how we feel with email. Unfortunately most of us tend to throw our hands up and give up because we forsee the end will never come of digging our way out. Well, let me show you from my experience how you can tackle this just as your junior high art teacher showed you how to sculpt something from clay.
To simplify the ability to get out of a messy inbox I propose these simple solutions.
1. Get out of the inbox entirely.
I have found it really hard to use a folder system personally. I have tried this in the past. Some that are more organized and OCD than I am can do this, but for me it is too much to think about as I go through email. To cure this I stay away from the inbox. Most email platforms have an “unread” folder. If not, then it is really easy to create one. I use Apple mail for my mail and I just created a smart folder that just pulls my work unread emails into it. Your iOS devices and gmail apps have this built in to their mail platforms if you prefer to use those as your email go to.
By using an uread folder you only see the emails that you have not read, thus making it easy to achieve Zero Inbox. This keeps you out of the clutter and from getting lost in all of the other emails. Once your unread box is empty then you are considered at Zero Inbox.
2. Stop checking your email first thing in the morning.
This is a surefire way to destroy productivity. We are all addicted to email. It’s like a drug. We want to check it, get more and write more. The best use of your fresh morning brain is to get the most effective things done first. Stop checking email first! You will get lost in it for the rest of the day. Set a time to check email. I like 10 or 11 am.
3. Only check email 1 or 2 times a day
“Email eats so much time. First, because it’s everyone else’s agenda for your time, often including manufactured emergencies. Second, email allows you to fool yourself into thinking you’re being productive.” Tim Ferriss
This is great advice that I got from Tim Ferriss, author of the Four Hour Work Week. He talks about limiting your email time to a set time each day. By doing this you have an allotted time, you are in and out and you are not burning your day in email. As stated above, email is a drug and many of us get lost in email all day everyday and we feel that we were busy, but didn’t accomplish anything.
If you are going to do this then you may want to set an autoresponder that notifies others of your email schedule so that in the case of an emergency they can contact you another way. Too often others view our time as less valuable than it is and if we are constantly tapped into email then we are proving them right. Take control of your time and limit your email usage.
4. Respond, Delegate, Defer
These are the three key steps to cleaning through email. If it is time sensitive, or really only needs a quick response then respond. No need to put off what can be done in a manner of seconds. Once you have responded then it is out of your mind.
Next, delegate the emails that ought to be handled by someone else. If you are cc’d on an email that is just for your information then read through it and let it go. If your assistant can take care of a matter, or if it belongs to someone else’s task list then forward it on and forget it.
Lastly, defer any emails that take more time. In step 5 I will spell out how I do this, but if it requires action outside of email then I will put it into swipes as a task that needs to be done. This gets it off my plate to go on to the next email, but doesn’t let it get lost in the swing of everything else.
5. Use a flagging structure.
I like the flags in Apple Mail. When I have critical emails that need a longer to do I will put them into a to do list, as mentioned above I like swipes. If it is less pressing, but needs more time or some more information then I will flag it. I have then created different color flag smart folders on Apple Mail for different items. This allows me to then go back at another time during the day and pay attention to those matters that needed more attention. I can then move on from my email to other key tasks for the day. Be sure, though, that you set yourself a time to go back to these flagged emails.
6. Remove email from your phone
Lastly, having email on our phones is one of the hardest and most draining things. Email is bad enough on a computer, but when you take it with you then it can suck you away from the most important things in your life such as family, friends, meditation, prayer, religious worship and your recreation. These are all things that we need as humans to thrive and survive. Don’t let email control your life by always being connected.
If for some reason you need email on your phone, which, I will admit that I do for when I travel, then turn off notifications. Once we see that beeming number on the icon we are drawn to check it. If you turn off the notifications then you can control when you check your email. You can control how it is viewed. This will then allow you to be present in your other activities. Frankly, you ought to use the “do not disturb” setting more in life to stay present in all activities.
I hope that you find these tips beneficial and can find the emptiness of your inbox as rewarding as I have. There is increased freedom from experiencing zero inbox. These are things that I have found success with and have experienced much more productivity in my life.