The Battle of the Bulging Email – How to Get to Inbox Zero

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An die ArbeitDo you have that love-hate relationship going on with your email inbox? You love the convenience of email but hate that it's another time consuming task on your “to do” list.

Last month we talked about how to hack paper clutter. Today we're tackling the subject of getting to what is known as “Inbox Zero”.

Although it has been interpreted to mean that there's a way to continually keep our inboxes free of emails, the original definition is a bit different. The term “Inbox Zero” was coined by productivity expert Merlin Mann. According to Mann, the zero is not a reference to the number of messages in an inbox; it is “the amount of time an employee's brain is in his inbox.” Mann was speaking to the business person who is wasting productivity time on an overflowing inbox.

Today, we are addressing the home executive who wonders at day's end where all their time and energy went. It can be for the same reason, too much time spent on an overload of emails.

If I were to add up my daily emails, I get 100+, and maybe you do too. So, how do we get to that “Inbox Zero”? These suggestions will help you get started in the right direction.

Use more than one email address.Right off the bat, that sounds counterproductive, but it isn't. For example, I have3 email addresses; one for work, one personal, and one for freebies. Speaking of freebies, if you don't have an email address that you're using when you sign up for the freebies we post, I encourage you to do that. If I sign up for something that I really want more information on, I use my personal email, but otherwise, my “junk” email catches the rest.

Unsubscribe. To get you on a roll (no pun intended), let's tackle unsubscribing from places you are getting unwanted mail from. That sounds simple enough, and it is, but it can be time consuming if you have a bunch. Instead, try usingUnroll.Me. It only takes a few minutes to either unsubscribe, keep in your inbox, or “roll up” your inbox into a daily digest. It's a simple process and Unroll.Me will quickly take you through each step. It's also possible to “unroll” an email that comes in your daily digest that you want to see back in your inbox. My recommendation is that you try it with a few subscriptions just to get a feel for how this works before you go rollup crazy. You'll be given the opportunity every day when you receive your daily digest to roll more or unsubscribe, if you choose.

Use your downtime. Next, use your downtime to check your daily digest and to wipe out emails that are still coming in and not rolled up. Get off Facebook and use the time you spend waiting in line at the grocery store, riding in the car (I did say “riding”, not driving!), during TV commercials, waiting at the doctor's office, and, well . . . you get the drift.

Organize. Set up a folder system within your email. If you aren't already doing that, you need to. We get emails that we want to keep or refer to later but they don't need to be kept in our inbox. Instead, set up an appropriate folder system and file those emails away. For example, you receive a good restaurant discount that you want to use later. Set up a folder for “restaurants” and file it away for quick access and to remove it from your inbox. You've placed an order online. You get an email confirmation and maybe other follow-up information. No need to make your inbox a “holding tank”. Instead use a folder. Just remember that, at some point, you will need to clean out your folders. So don't get “folder happy” just to get emails out of your inbox.

Delete, delete, delete. If you don't recognize the sender, don't open that email – delete it! If it's spam, mark it as such and move on. And delete anything else that you just aren't interested in looking at. No need to open it. Just delete it.Chances are, you won't be missing anything.

Schedule. Are you the type that just has to keep their email open all the time? Are you being notified every time an email arrives? Unless you're waiting for a really important message, stop those notifications and close that email! Checking your mail a couple of times a day or at specific intervals should be enough. When you use Unroll.Me, you can choose the time of day you'd like to see your daily digest. This will help you get started in the right direction for scheduling an “email time”.

Employ the “two minute rule”. This is for the quick read or quick response.If you can do it in two minutes or less, do it right away and then delete the email. For example, upcoming event information can be immediately noted on your calendar and email deleted. If you receive something that is a longer read, you could set up a file labeled, “Read”. Or you may have to take action that is not quick a minute. You could set up a file labeled “Action” or “Do Today”. Whatever is applicable to you and the email. If you tend to be of the “out of sight-out of mind” persuasion, then you might want to hold an email in your inbox so you won't forget about it.

Longterm. Email should be kept to a rather short lifespan. However, if you get emailed minutes from a committee meeting, photos from family or friends, or other information that you want to keep for a longer period of time, then it's time to move it to your Evernote or Dropbox files. It will still be accessible across all your devices and easily retrieved when needed.

Emails can accumulate the same way paper clutter does. We may never get to the point where we have achieved no emails hanging around in our inboxes, but havinga plan can help you concentrate on the things that are important to you. Like having that “just for me” time when the kids are down for a nap.


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