One of my favourite topics is email overwhelm.
We pop into email to retrieve something that we need and oops, an hour has gone before we know it…
Not just for us, but for our clients too. We’re all busy and email keeps us that way.
Even worse, it makes us feel productive even when we are not achieving very much. It steals our valuable time when we least expect it.
Here’s my system to keep my in-box clean and tidy.
Step-by-step guide to detox your in-box
A few months ago I discovered AsianEfficiency.com and bought a product from them to help me figure out some better ways of using my time well.
The main thing I took away from it was the sure and simple email strategy.
I’ve adapted it slightly.
Here’s my model for getting out of email overwhelm:
- Delete anything in your in-box more than a month old.
- Sort your in-box by ‘from‘.
- Start at the bottom.
- Unsubscribe from anything that does not give you a LOT of value, and ideally, change your subscription so it goes to a diffferent email address (not your work one).
- Save any attachments or anything you want to reference. I use Evernote (Evernote is an easy to use tool that becomes a kind of filing cabinet – more on this another day).
- Anything you need to reply to, move to a folder that you create with the name REPLY.
- Anything you have already replied to but waiting to hear back from, move to a folder that you create with the name WAITING.
- Anything you don’t need to take action on, move to a folder that you create with the name ARCHIVE.
- When you have processed all your email, you have InBox Zero. Take a moment to enjoy that feeling.
- Go to your REPLY folder and reply to anything that takes 2 minutes or less. Then move to ARCHIVE or WAITING.
- Go back to everything else and reply to them IN ORDER OF PRIORITY. You decide what that means. urgent or important.
You will likely be left with a few emails which are BIG TASKS.
- Set aside time in your schedule to come back to those. They are probably important but too big to deal with quickly which is why they are still hanging around.
- Set aside time to process your in-box at least once and ideally twice each workday.
- Follow the sequence to get to InBox Zero and then work through the things you need to reply to.
- Process your WAITING folder a couple of times a week and re-forward those emails with a short note encouraging a reply. Change your subject header to say ‘following up’.
The key to all of this is to unsubscribe from A LOT of things.
Ideally anything you want to read later should be tucked away in a separate folder so they don’t sit there distracting you when you are trying to get things done.
When you apply this system — or something similar — you will find that your email becomes far more manageable and you don’t lose things nearly so much as you used to.