A popular term you may have heard banded about recently is ‘Zero Inbox’ Many people misunderstand the original meaning of this concept. Productivity expert, Merlin Mann came up with the phrase years ago and rather than referring to having no e-mails in your in box, he talked about “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.” meaning you should not waste time and energy on your inbox where you don’t have to.
People seem to have adopted their on view on the term and there is certainly something very satisfying about not having hundreds of e-mails in your inbox that are not organised in any way, many still showing as unread.
I have recently started a new job, got a new e-mail address, a new laptop and a brand spanking new inbox with zero e-mails in it! What better time than to overhaul the way I manage it, to make myself more productive. I have compiled my tips for keeping your inbox operating in a more orderly fashion:
– Spend time organising yourself from the start
When you first set up an e-mail account, take some time to set up all the folders you need to organise yourself. You can of course set this up at any time, but it will be a much bigger task if you are filing e-mails away from years back. If this is the case you may want to move very old e-mails into a folder called ‘Archive’ and only properly file away the more recent ones.
– Take immediate action if an e-mail can be responded to quickly
If an e-mails needs responding to and you can respond immediately, do it then and there. This will save you time in the long run as often time is wasted reopening e-mails time and time again, still without actioning them. You can define what ‘quickly’ is based on your circumstances, what you are currently doing and how much time you have. I would say anything that takes less than 2 minutes, don’t hesitate to respond straight away and if you have time, try to reply to anything that takes less than 5 minutes immediately.
– Have a separate ‘to do’ & ‘must do’ folder
Anything that can’t be actioned immediately, can be put into 2 different folders, ‘to do’ and must do’. This gets them out of your inbox and very clearly gives you a task list of things you need to action at a time you allocate for this. ‘Must do’ can be used for things that need to be actioned by the end of the day. Use it wisely and only put e-mails in there that really do have to be completed the same day. This folder should be empty by the time the day finishes. You should check it last thing, to ensure you completed everything you needed to. The ‘To do’ folder can be used for things that you need to action, but it doesn’t have to be the same day.
– Allocate specific time to focus on to dos
If you sweep all your e-mails into ‘to do’ and ‘must do’ folders, the absolute key to success is that you have dedicated time allocated to actioning them. It feels great getting them out of view of your inbox, but if you then ignore them and don’t take action, it kind of defeats the purpose! Decide when the best time for you is, it could be first thing in the morning, later in the afternoon, or at periods throughout the day, whatever works most effectively for you.
– Use flags for e-mails you need a follow up on
Any e-mail you need to have done by a certain date or time, you can set a flag reminder for, so that it pops up to remind you that you need to action it. This can be especially useful if you have sent the e-mail to someone else to look at for you or you, or if it wasn’t urgent, but you do need to check that you didn’t forget to do something with it.
– Create rules
You may receive some e-mails that you need to keep as you want to read them at a later date, or you may need to refer to them in the future, but you can create a rule to automatically file them into the correct folder and then you can access them when you need to at a later date.
– Immediately unsubscribe from junk mail
One way to stop lots of junk e-mails clogging up your inbox is the immediately unsubscribe. If you receive an e-mail and its of no interest to you and you don’t remember signing up for it, quickly click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the mail and then you will not receive any more. If you do this each day for any unwanted mails, it makes it much easier to keep on top of.
– Use down time to keep on top of things
There are many times when you may have 5 mins spare, where you can access your inbox, if you have it accessible on your phone. You can use this time to file or delete e-mails, or possibly even action them, depending on what they are. You may be in a queue, on a bus, or waiting for a friend. Any instance where you are not doing anything else, you can take the opportunity to be super productive and look at your inbox and organise away.
– Delete what you don’t need
Don’t be a hoarder! Consider whether you really need an e-mail and if you don’t, delete it. If you may need it in the future you can file it into one of your folders, but if you really won’t need to refer to it again, then just delete it.
Having no e-mails at all may not be a realistic goal, but to have all the ones you need to take action on in a separate folder will help you manage your inbox more effectively and help you spend less time navigating your way around what you need to do.
I’d love to hear if you have any other hints and tips for managing your inbox in the comments below.