Do you have an overflowing email inbox that’s almost out of control?
Or have you ever spent hours going through your emails, and felt immense satisfaction upon reaching inbox zero. But then, within a short time, the messages piled up again and you were back to square one?
Frustrating, isn’t it?
I understand. I’ve been there.
Organising your email inbox can be a real challenge. And especially if you run your own small business, energy sapping and a real time suck.
So how can you manage your emails on a daily basis to clean out your inbox – and keep it that way?
Here are some tips and tricks for achieving inbox zero. Permanently.
1) Act on emails immediately
Because a clogged up inbox can be so overwhelming, there’s a risk of missing the really important messages. So never let them just sit in your inbox. Read each incoming email once, then decide immediately what to do with it.
Chose from these five options: Reply, Action, Read, File, Delete.
- Reply – If the email just needs a quick answer, that will only take a couple of minutes, reply straight away.
- Action – If the email is a little more involved (perhaps you need to look up some information first, or it’s part of a project) move it into an action file. You can name the file anything you like – Action, To Do, Today etc. It also makes it easier to see what’s urgent or important.
- Read – Move emails that are interesting or informative into a reading file. And you can then go back to them when you have the time.
- File – Some emails may just contain information that you need to keep for reference. Simply file or archive them.
- Delete – Any junk, spam or irrelevant messages – delete immediately.
2) Filters and labels
If you subscribe to any regular newsletters, set up a label and filter for them. (Your reading file perhaps?) That way, instead of filling up your inbox, they will automatically get sent to a dedicated file. And will be available whenever you want them.
It goes without saying, unsubscribe from any newsletters that are uninteresting, unhelpful or that you never read.
3) Don’t multitask your inbox
One reason why your inbox can get so full, is that it’s often used for multiple purposes. It may serve as your to do list, calendar and place to store bits and pieces of information. But the problem is you probably find yourself constantly scrolling up and down looking for everything. Not only is it time consuming, but also easy to forget things as they get lost among several hundred emails.
So be strict with your inbox. Only use it as a destination for new messages. Because multitasking it doesn’t work effectively.
Here are some easy solutions you can try:
- Invitations – Turn them into events on your calendar.
- To do emails – Make them into tasks on your to do list. If you use gmail, you can also give them date, so they will be visible on your calendar.
- Information and reference – Simply create a separate information file and store those emails there.
4) What to do when you’re waiting for replies
If you have emails you are waiting for a reply on, set up a file called ‘To Reply’ (or whatever name works best for you). And move those pending emails there.
You can either check through that file every so often, to see if you need to chase anything up. Or, set up a reminder to yourself. Alternatively, you can use this great solution I’m going to tell you about below.
I recently discovered a great email reminder service called followupthen. It’s so useful, easy to use – and free. It’s the secret ingredient that helped me get to inbox zero – and stay there.
You simply chose when you want to be reminded about a particular email. It could be several hours, days, weeks or even months. Then file or archive that email. And it will return to your inbox exactly when you want it.
You can use it in many different ways. As a reminder to chase up a reply to an email or act on a task. To respond to a message at a specific time and remember events.
Another great feature is that because it works via email, you can use it across all your devices. Great if you check emails both on a desktop and as well as via your mobile when on the go.
6) Use a timer
It can be really disheartening to spend hours wading through your inbox. So do it in short bursts, between more creative and productive activities. Set a timer for 15, 20 or 30 minutes. Then work through as many emails as possible within that set time limit.
7) Don’t let emails be a constant distraction
Schedule several sessions throughout the day to check and deal with your emails. Depending on how many you receive, you might need to do this every couple of hours. But you might find once or twice a day is also enough.
Then when you are done, close your inbox, switch off alerts so that you can focus on other things.
8) Use dead time to keep on top of your emails
Standing in a queue at the supermarket. Waiting for a bus. Hanging on the phone, and forced to listen to annoying music for ten minutes while waiting to be put through to someone. Basically, any time you have to wait around and can’t do much else. These are great opportunities to quickly go through your emails and keep on top of things.
I hope these tip will help make it easier for you to manage your emails and clean out your inbox.
Take control of your inbox, instead of letting it overwhelm you. And have more time to be creative and do the things that matter.
Do you have any other tips for managing emails? Please share them in the comments below.
[image: Flickr creative commons via Bryan Costin ]