In my last post, I talked about how to get your email Inbox to 0, which is the first step in taking control of your email. Hopefully you’ve followed my advice (or made a good stab at it), and now you’re ready to move on to keeping it that way.
But first, let me ask. How did you feel when you got your Inbox down to 0 emails? Good? Anxious? Invigorated? I hope your reaction was positive, because if you liked it, you’re more likely to keep it that way. I like looking at an empty Inbox. It makes me feel like I’m on top of things.
So how do you keep it that way? Well, first understand that it’s an ongoing process. Often, you’ll clear your Inbox and a few seconds later, a new email pops in. That’s okay. It’s much easier to deal with them as they come in than letting them pile up.
Before you can truly master your email, you need all your messages in one place. If you use a program like Outlook, make sure it’s gathering up all your accounts. If you’re like me and despise Outlook, you can use Gmail, which can be set to import all your email accounts. Having them all in one place is a huge time saver, especially if you have many webmail accounts, like I do.
Once you’ve got them all in one place, use a similar strategy to what you used to get it to 0 in the first place. When you open your Inbox, categorize your emails as follows.
Take action on quick emails right away
If an email will take 5 minutes or less to handle, answer it and either delete or file. Don’t let it sit there.
Create To-Do items for emails that will take longer
Unless you have time to deal with the more time-consuming messages right now, make a note and file the email in your Action folder. This way you won’t worry about forgetting about it. Once it’s on your To-Do list and out of your Inbox, it stops weighing you down.
Obviously, you’ll have to take action on it, and the other items on your To-Do list, but that’s true whether you’re handling email well or not. If your To-Do list is out of control, read David Allen’s excellent Getting Things Done. You’ll notice that I’ve adapted his email system for these posts.
Delete the rest. Or even better, filter them
Filters are my friend. When an email comes in that is junk, I don’t just delete it. I set a filter to automatically route the email to my Deleted Items folder. I get up to 50 emails a day that I never see (I just checked and did a quick count.) That saves me so much time. Sure, it takes me a moment to set the filter the first time, but then all emails from that sender are automatically deleted.
I prefer this to unsubscribing. For example, I’m on several Daily Deal lists. Right now, I’m cutting back on eating out, so I don’t want to be tempted. When my weight is back where I want it, I might be interested again, so I can just remove the filter and go back to seeing tempting cupcakes in my Inbox.
Filtering keeps the amount of junk way down, which allows you to focus on what needs your attention.
I generally delete and filter first when I open my Inbox. Let’s say I have 20 emails. After deleting and filtering, I’m probably down to 6 or 7 that need action. Most of those are quick “Sure, that’s fine” emails, leaving me with only one or two that need more time.
Setting aside two or three blocks of time each day allows me to keep on top of it and routinely get my Inbox down to 0 (which is where it is at the time of this writing).
Sound good? Go ahead and try it for yourself!