Pop Quiz: How many emails are currently in your inbox? Be honest. 10? 20? 50? 200? More?
A colleague I recently spoke with had 2300+ email messages in their inbox. A large percentage unread and unanswered. At that point your email has become an ineffective means of communication.
You read stories of people declaring “email bankruptcy” and giving up on their entire inbox without a care as to the repercussions.
When was the last time you saw your inbox empty? Empty? That is just plain silly. Mine does not go to empty?!!
Ah, the elusive empty email inbox, sometimes referred to as “Inbox Zero.”
Here are 5 Swift Tips to Help Empty Your Inbox:
1 – Do not be afraid to delete emails
Why is it so scary to delete emails? Just like clutter in their house, people are afraid to throw things out. Personally, I think you should be quick to delete any email that does not serve an immediate purpose. Regardless of whether it is from a colleague or the mail order company you purchased from last month.
But, what if I delete something important? Don’t worry. If you make an oversight, it will come back. Trust me. If it was important, I guarantee it will come back.
2 – If you touch it, you own it.
This is a big one. If you touch an email, you own it. Sorry, that is the rule.
If you even looked at it… you need to do something with it. How often do you open up a piece of junk email and then simply close it, leaving it in your inbox? Really??? You might look at the latest e-saver from your favorite airline, later? I don’t think so.
Instead, if you read it, do something with it now. Delete it. Put it on your todo list. File It. Or all the above.
3 – Emails are not todos.
This is a major shift in thinking for some. Emails are not todos. Get them out of your inbox and onto your todo list.
Most people leave emails in their inbox thinking it will remind them to deal with that item at a later time. But, what happens is that more email pours in and buries that task. It becomes lost or forgotten.
I am not a big fan of Outlook’s task functionality. File that email and put the actual task on your todo list. Or better yet, use a tool like Goodtodo to send your emails straight to your todo list.
4- Have a method to get emails out of your inbox.
Your inbox is not a filing system. Many people are dismayed that they are always drowning in email, yet they do not have any method to get emails out of their inbox.
How can you expect to empty your overflowing inbox if you are never taking anything out?
Make sure you have a defined way to remove items from your inbox. In Outlook, I recommend having a dedicated archive folder to move things to after reading them. In GMail, use the archive button religiously to move items out of your inbox and into your archive folder.
It used to be hard to find old emails that you filed, and that made people nervous about placing emails out of sight. However, I find that with tools like Xobni for Outlook and simple Google Search for your GMail, you can find old emails in mere seconds.
The other day, I was on the phone with a client and was asked about something that happened 4 years ago. Within 20 seconds I had located the email conversation from 4 years ago and was reading the email response to the client. And yes, they were caught a little offguard. 🙂
One last note, I am not a fan of auto-rules for email filing. If you have that much mail pouring in, you probably need to shut some of it off. I would ask what you are auto-filing and why don’t you just turn it off?
5 – The more you send…the more you get.
Today’s final tip is a simple one that seems to elude most people’s logic. But, alas, the more email you send…the more you get back!
As with many things in life, the more you do of something the more you get. If you respond to every email, you are just compounding the amount that will come back into your inbox.
Resist the urge to respond to every email. Don’t say “thank you” to the “thank you” that you just got. Don’t add just one more thought to that endless email thread that is going around the office.
Sometimes less is more effective. In the case of email, this is doubly true.
The Inbox: It does go to zero.
I hope these tips help you in your own battle against your email inbox.
With good habits and diligence, you can stay ahead of your email.
What are your best tips for managing your inbox?