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September 16, 2010

Simplify Your Email, Simplify Your Life

my empty inbox

Ever feel like what’s in your inbox dictates how your day goes?

Or maybe you want to respond to email but just don’t have time to answer ALL of them and then they start building up.

This can get overwhelming and lead to a lack of control, leaving you feeling pulled in too many directions, sometimes even losing track of important emails.  Let’s wrap a leash around that inbox and pull it on in a bit closer.

Get A Clean Inbox

“Your Inbox should be for things you haven’t read yet.”
-Merlin Mann of 43 Folders

I just spent an hour a day for 5 days cleaning out my Inbox.  I never thought of all these messages piling up in my inbox as a big deal because I could just go back and see all of them or do a quick search and find what I needed but having a clean and clear Inbox has many advantages.

I now have more:

  • Organization
  • Cleaner, Efficient Work-flow
  • Space on my Hard Drive
  • Control Of My Life

Utilize these techniques and gain some piece of mind

Some Quick Helpful Tips When Organizing Your Email…

  1. Have a set time/time-limit to work on email – 20 minutes or less, 2-6 times per day -  If you can, don’t keep your email open all day, just when you are working on it. This is easier said then done but give it a try and you may feel less overwhelmed immediately.
  2. Process To Zero – Each time you work on your email, there should be ZERO messages in the Inbox when you are done. (Again easier said then done but once you learn some easy techniques, this will get easier)
  3. Have a system to organize your mail – The first thing that comes to mind is to create folders for clients, personal, etc, but that only leaves us with more clicking to do to and we might even miss important messages.  Here is one way to do it:

Create 3 Folders:

  1. Archive – For anything you are totally finished with but may need access to later on
  2. Followup – For mail you need to respond to but cannot do so in 2 minutes of less
  3. Hold – For mail that you need to wait on in order to take action (waiting for someone to get back to you, coupons, other delegations)

Leo from Zen Habits uses only one folder, “Archive”, which he likes because he doesn’t want to work in more than one folder.  There’s no one way to do it, find what works best for you. The point is to keep that inbox clean and maximize your efforts. I like the 3 folder approach because after I sort things out I know exactly where to go when looking to take action on important email.

According to this inspirational video from Merlin Mann of 43 Folders, there are 5 things you can do with an email:

  1. Delete – Obvious but get used to doing more of this. Or Archive It.
  2. Delegate – Send it to someone and then archive it or put it in Hold box until you get a response. Give yourself a reminder when you delegate
  3. Respond – Get used to doing a quick 2 line reply (get a rhythm)
  4. Defer/ Hold Until Later – Don’t want to deal with it now, or need more information to repsond (Hold Box)
  5. Do – If it is something you can do now, Do it. (Put Meeting on Calendar, Build To-Do List, Quick Task, etc)

It’s a good idea to have a To-Do List handy while working on email. I use Google Tasks (part of Google Calendar) but you could use just text files or another program.

Try Keeping your Inbox neat, you may just respect it more, and find you are actually respecting your time and attention.

Email Zen is that easy: check email at regular periods, take action on each email right away (or note it on a list to do later) and archive. Ahhh. Empty inbox! – Leo Babauta, Zen Habits

A Few More Quick Tips

  • Lose The Fear of Deleting Email (Event though it took me a little while to sort through ALL my emails that were piling up in my Inbox, I was able to do a lot of it in bunches and by the end I was going through it much faster. Once you Process To Zero the first time, your daily email regiment will feel as easy as floating downstream.)
  • Do Email Less – Dont leave email open, Shut Your Auto Update Off (Get Out Of Email and Have A Life Somewhere Else).  Sometimes you cant do that, but most people can.
  • Check it once per hour, process for 10 to 20 minutes
  • Filter certain mail into Folder
  • Unsubscribe to Newsletters you no longer wish to receive
  • Develop Templates of email responses you use most often (so you can respond really fast)
  • Get in the Mindset of Converting Things Into Actions

Interesting Articles about this topic:

ZenHabits: Email Zen: Clear Out Your Inbox

Inbox Zero: Reclaim Your Email, Your Atten­tion, and Your Life

43 Folders: Process To Zero

Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen

  1. Here is another article related to the topic at hand. It’s a good list of simple points to go by when tackling that INBOX.

    Email Etiquette for the Super-Busy

    “It’s time for a more mindful approach, one that fully embraces a “less is more” strategy. To help you get started, we’ve assembled a cheat sheet of our email best practices. And, trust us, it’s not just about being more polite, it’s about being more efficient and getting the responses you need.”

    Comment by admin — January 14, 2011 @ 8:47 am

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