We entrepreneurs are slaves to our inboxes. Yes? And we seem to be okay with it because the email just keeps piling up.
We could spend all day answering email! But let’s not. There’s a smarter way to manage this.
While the elusive Inbox Zero may not be your main goal, holding on to unanswered or unprocessed email is a drain on your mental energy.
A couple of months ago, I achieved Inbox Zero and maintained it for three weeks – until I went away for a week. The messages piled up! I couldn’t seem to get my inbox down to fewer than 30 or 40 messages.
Now, two weeks after that trip, I have again mastered my inbox. I paid close attention to my steps so that I could share them with you.
Use this process when your inbox is more than you can handle and you see no way out. It may take you a couple of hours, but you only have to do it once and then maintain the discipline on a daily basis.
STEP 1: Delete Freely
Yes, you might miss something when you delete freely, but this is a necessary step when you’re overloaded with email messages. You simply can’t give new stuff the attention it deserves until you clear out the detritus.
Be ruthless deleting the four types of messages in this step! Be okay with the fact that you might miss something, but understand that something newer and better awaits your attention.
1. Delete subscription messages.
You subscribe to my newsletter and others to gain more knowledge. But when they’re just sitting in your inbox, they’re not doing you any good.
If you haven’t read them by now . . . Delete!
2. Delete anything you can find online.
If you can find something on Google when you most need it, there’s no reason to hang onto an email about the same subject. Delete!
3. Delete anything more than 3 months old.
Email is pretty immediate. If it’s 2 weeks old, it might be out of date. But 3 months is beyond the limit.
4. Delete the jokes that Uncle Harvey sends you or the dire warnings that Aunt Ann thinks will save your life.
We all have Uncle Harveys and Aunt Anns in our family. Bless their hearts. They pass along every little thing they think is funny or could save your life.
You know that if Aunt Ann would only look it up on SNOPES she would discover she is passing on misleading information. Still, you don’t have time to educate her. You have an inbox to empty. Delete!
STEP 2: Process Remaining Email
Set aside a block of time to process your email, meaning that you concentrate on taking care of each message as you read it. No more “checking” email now and dealing with it later.
First, sort your email with the oldest message on top. Start there and work your way down to the present.
Then, with each message, you have 5 choices of action. You can:
- Respond to the email.
- Turn it into a task for your to-do list.
- Delete it.
- Flag it for action later in the day. (Don’t let the flags pile up!)
- Archive it.
To maintain an empty inbox, process your email like this at least once a day.
That’s it! If you process each message as you have it on your screen, you will achieve (and maintain) Inbox Zero in no time.