Dealing with all the messages in your inbox can feel like a never-ending battle.
Just when you think it’s under control, you’re besieged with a barrage of new messages. You’re faced with the painful fact that “inbox zero” will probably always remain out of reach.
Here’s a tip.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by fantasizing about the unattainable inbox zero.
Instead, strive for “inbox processed”, a state you can attain by quickly and easily taking the appropriate action for every single message that comes your way.
These five simple strategies will lead you straight to inbox processed and help you effectively manage your time spent on email.
5 Simple Steps for Getting to Inbox Processed
1. Be a clock watcher
Determine the amount of time you can spend on email before you open your inbox and then stick to it. Set a timer if it makes it easier for you. E.gg Timer is my favorite online timer.
2. Be quick to delete
Quickly scan unread messages and immediately delete the ones you definitely don’t need. Next, look for the emails that require immediate attention and answer them. If you have time left, go to the less urgent ones and deal with them.
Bonus Tip: If you’ve got a few extra minutes, unsubscribe from newsletters and set up a Google Reader account so that you can subscribe to the RSS feeds from those sites. You’ll still get the updates, but they’ll be neatly organized.
3. Be a labeler
Create a “Client” label in your inbox and nest emails to/from each client. Always use uniform labelling, which can be as simple as “Client: name of the client.” This approach prevents you from wasting time searching for correspondence and creates – in one place – a clear history of your collaboration.
Bonus Tip: It’s easy to apply this system to projects or other groups of messages. The key is to always separate them from the rest of the messages by using uniform labels (e.g., “Project: name of project” or “Program: name of program”).
4. Be a quitter
When the timer goes off, get out of your inbox and don’t let yourself work with it open.
If your smartphone lets you know when new messages come in, set your notifications on silent (or better yet, turn them off altogether), so they don’t disturb you.
5. Be strong
As you work, you might suddenly remember that you need to follow up with a client, send a reminder to a prospect or check dates in an email invitation.
If it’s not urgent, resist going back into your inbox. The task that you think of as a one-minute affair will likely eat up one hour (if not more) of your time as you inevitably remember other things you need to do in your inbox.
These five basic techniques have helped so many of my clients finally overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed by their inboxes.
5 DAY CHALLENGE
I want to end with a challenge that has the potential to truly liberate you.
You might be wondering what you should do with those hundreds, even thousands, of emails that have been in your inbox for ages.
Don’t spend your time processing them.
Instead, I want you to move all of those messages to a folder labeled “Archive.”
Don’t worry. You won’t lose your mail. It’ll still be there, safe and searchable, but you’ll feel lighter from not constantly seeing them sitting there in your inbox.
The final step of the challenge? Commit to using the five strategies above for five days and see what happens to your inbox.
In the comments, tell me which step above will help you most.