Email is a wonderful tool. I can’t imagine going back to the days of sending memos back and forth. However, I’m not sure we have ever had a tool that we let run our lives the way we’ve allowed email to take over our personal and professional lives. In today’s post, I want to tackle one of the biggest problems that people often face with email: an overflowing inbox.
Raise your hand if you currently have 50 messages in your inbox? 100? 500? 1,000? (I won’t ask if you have more than that!)
I think we often forget the purpose of an inbox. I still have one on my desk, but I rarely receive anything in it. The email inbox was modeled off of a real paper inbox.
As such, our email inbox is simply supposed to be a place for messages to land initially and be processed.
Many people use their email inbox as a to do list, filing cabinet, and junk drawer all rolled into one.
For your own sanity, stop doing this!
Don’t worry, making this change is far easier than you think. I have five easy steps you can take to bring your inbox under control.
1. If the message is older than a month, move it to a folder called Old Messages. Some email experts suggest declaring email bankruptcy, deleting everything, and starting fresh with a new inbox. I’m not sure I would go that far. Yet, I think the principle is right. You can’t manage your inbox when you’re so far behind. It is just depressing. Take any message older than a month and move it an Old Messages folder. Chances are that you don’t need the messages, but they are there if you later decide that you do. Either the message wasn’t very important or the sender has probably followed up with you by now. Most important, the messages aren’t in your inbox staring you in the face every time you open your email.
2. If you can deal with a message in 2 minutes or less, do it when you first read it. This principle will help you keep messages from backing up in your inbox. If you need to quickly respond- do it. If you need to enter something into your calendar- do it. Don’t leave the messages sitting there in your inbox. Just like a physical inbox, you wouldn’t keep reading a piece of paper and then put it back. Deal with it and move on to the next issue. The goal is to only read and deal with an email message once.
3. Delete. Delete. Delete. The delete key is your greatest ally in the battle to control your inbox. You have to delete messages. This is the only way to keep things under control. The good thing with email is even when you delete a message it isn’t gone forever. With folders and backups, you can keep mail forever. Just don’t keep it in your inbox. I liberally use my delete key because I know it isn’t permanent. If I later need it, I can get it. However, the advantage is my inbox stays managed and cleaned out.
4. Unsubscribe from lists. Over time, we all end up on many lists. This just slowly escalates the number of messages that we receive every day. I hate taking the time to unsubscribe from lists, but you just have to bite the bullet and do it. One of the easiest ways to control your email is to limit how much comes in. Removing yourself from lists can keep unneeded email from your inbox.
5. Send less email. One of the biggest changes I’ve made that has generated the greatest impact on my inbox is sending less email. I used to send hundreds of messages a day. Also, I would reply to every message I received. I stopped this and dramatically cut down the email I get every day. It makes sense when you think about it. The more email you send. The more email you receive. We’ve all been part of email conversations that really should be done in person or over the phone. Instead, we send dozens of messages. Now, I’m much more conscious of when I send email and it has shown great results.
Don’t let your inbox control you. Keeping your inbox managed will make you feel so much less stress.
An overflowing inbox hurts your productivity and drives up your stress levels. Thankfully, there are some easy changes you can make to help keep things managed. Get started today and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes!