Managing emails is yet another process that clogs our day to day. Back before the advent of emails, it was letters that clogged our world. Now, emails are the virtual clutter in our life.
We generate a staggering number of emails and receive even more on a daily basis and they all have to end up somewhere. It is no wonder that being overwhelmed by emails is a common occurrence but it doesn’t have to be that way.
How to Inbox Zero
Unfortunately I’m going to have to remind you of the nagging that your mother or father might have had in store for you when you were younger. If you tidy up your toys each day you won’t have such a mess.
How do we get out of control in the first place?
It is a matter of lack of discipline, lack of motivation and not controlling what comes in through the front door.
You are the boss!
Unless you have money to spend on employing someone to manage your inbox you are going to have to get a grip of this yourself.
Every action requires you to be in the driving seat so you are going to have to roll up your sleeves.
What are the drawbacks of a bloated inbox?
- Simple actions take longer
- It is difficult to differentiate what is important amongst the competing demand
- You are far more likely to get lost in your emails rather than being pinpoint accurate with your time spent
- You start to run close to your inbox size limit which may prevent new emails filtering through
Bloated inboxes need continuous scrolling up and down to find what you are looking for and may force you to use the search function more frequently.
What Mindset Do You Need To Get Clear?
You need to cast aside some of your sentimentality when cleaning out your inbox. A bad inbox displays signs that you are a hoarder. Sentimentality combined with de-motivation and a lazy bone or two may be what has led to this problem.
A pro-active approach is needed.
You need to assign an hour per day to this task. Can’t do an hour? Try 30 minutes. You won’t get enough done in 10.
Determining Which Kind of Strategy To Start With
There are two types of email inbox user. Low and High volume receivers form the two groups.
High Volume Receivers
A high volume receiver is receiving between 100+ emails a day. You’ve got a serious problem so it benefits you to go through the whole shrinking process from Phase 1: Step 1.
Low Volume Receivers
You can get started on deleting the bulk of email straight away so skip to Phase 1: Step 3 unless you think you can benefit from shrinking your intake down.
Important Exceptions to Mention Before Starting:
During legal proceedings it is best to retain all emails regardless of how little importance you may associate with them. However, I would strongly recommend saving them by printing them to .pdf and where necessary, print to hard copy. They will require their own folder. With legal documentation, don’t delete if you are unsure as it may be difficult to recover later.
Deletion is not always final
Often there might be a ‘deleted’ folder. This will give you a second chance to rescue something before it is deleted forever.
If your inbox size is at its maximum, you may need to ensure that all emails in the deleted folder are permanently deleted before your overall mailbox size is restored and you can start using your account properly.
It is good practice to clean out your deleted emails on a regular basis. In some cases, deleted files will be cleaned off by the system every 30 days. Some systems do this sooner.
Phase 1: Purge
The Purge Phase involves you taking a two-pronged attack to your email. You start with what is coming in then end by what you’ve already received.
Why start with what is coming in?
If you don’t start with what is coming in you will soon be overwhelmed by a wealth of emails you don’t need. You won’t have solved the frequency problem. The deletion stage will be longer lasting because you have already destroyed the source of the nuisance.
Step 1: Sort by Sender
The most effective way to start stripping back your emails is to sort your emails by sender.
Step 2: Eliminate
Don’t delete all of the emails before unsubscribing if you are on a mail subscription. You need to unsubscribe first then delete.
Eliminate the senders that you don’t want to receive content from anymore. Select all of their emails and delete them.
Mark spam as spam. Rather than a simple delete some of the email clients give you a chance to identify spam. Normally spam originates from dodgy named email origins and uses unusual subject lines.
If possible, block those individuals that you continuously delete from, one by one.
Step 3: Sort by Date (oldest first)
Important note: some of your mail may still be important so don’t delete unless you are sure.
Create a folder or have a folder free to transfer emails to. This will vary depending on your provider.
Work from the oldest to the newest, deleting non relevant emails. Transfer relevant emails to the other folder. You can “star” or flag important emails.
Whilst in this process, if you have important documents, consider whether they are more appropriately kept as a hard copy. Some bank letters are better kept offline as a hard copy but even these lose their importance after 6 years.
Those items with attachments that are useful can be downloaded. When you are satisfied that the document has been handled correctly you can delete.
Step 4: Repeat this Process
Repeat the whole process in 4 weeks’ time as emails mount up again. There may be some emails that aren’t caught on your first sweep with regards subscription or blocking.
Phase 2: Organise
Create a number of folders to store the emails from recipients you know you will be keeping in future.
Tips for users with POP mail accounts on a local client:
If using a POP mail account (One that provides a local storage of emails such as Outlook), you can set up some “rules” for your emails.
- Move to folder
- Move to folder and provide an alert
- Send to Deleted items**
**Try to avoid receiving these in the first place.
Outlook looks like so:-
Phase 3: Manage
Every day, check your mail and action changes.
- Unsubscribe if you don’t need the emails you are receiving. If you find yourself deleting immediately on a regular basis, unsubscribe.
- Mark spam as spam to train the spam filter.
- Delete those emails that are not important. Everything is not important after 6 months unless it is a bill you have to keep and then you should consider saving it as a hard copy.
- Place important emails in folders after responding or taking action on them.
- Decommission important emails after their time has passed by printing to .pdf
If your email starts getting out of control again, start from Phase 1. Rinse and repeat.
You should find a great deal of relief in having an empty inbox on a regular basis. It is good to know that everything is sorted. You will find that your efficiency will increase and you will know where everything important is.
If you’ve found this guide useful, feel free to share.
If you have any improvements to this process or any other considerations you’d like to share, let me know.
I use FastMail as my email client, its fast, functional and easy to set up. Currently the Affiliate link is down therefore I won’t display any warnings here but I would still recommend the service.
Rules can be setup to manage your emails as per below:-
More Useful Links on the Subject
- Lifehack have created this excellent article on Inbox Zero, championing the notion that simply getting your inbox to “no new messages” is not the most desirable position.
- 43Folders has a whole bunch of articles that detail Inbox Zero in deep detail.
- Mashable provide 5 tricks to Inbox Zero. I found the 2nd tip the most useful here.