For the last five years, my inbox has been a constant source of stress and anxiety. I tried so hard to stay caught up, but was always buried. Lately, I’ve implemented some tactics to stay out of the inbox hole and into a better headspace.
Until a few months ago, I was working a full time job and managing a musician on the side, which lead to an overloaded inbox. Sometimes, building a dream job requires taking on extra work for a period of time, so that’s what I was doing. I had meaningful projects to work on, but I never felt like I could get ahead. Even though I was enjoying my work, my email system had to change.
So, how did I go from a buried inbox to “Inbox Zero?”
I started reading a book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, which taught me a couple principles I implemented in my day-to-day systems. Since reading the book, I’ve also created a few systems of my own. If you want to get on top of your inbox, here’s what I’d recommend:
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5 Email Tactics to Get to “Inbox Zero”
You’re most efficient when you read an email only once. After reading the email, you have five options:
1. Delete it or archive it
Keep your inbox clean by deleting or archiving emails that need no action.
2. Reply immediately
Reply right away as often as possible and then delete emails when they won’t need to be referenced again or archive emails when they may need to referenced in the future.
3. Create a “Waiting For” task list for sent emails
Often when I write an email, the message requires someone else’s action. Much of my stress was coming when I wondered, “Who hasn’t replied to me?” Then I would search through my “Sent” folder looking for emails that needed action. I now know what actions are pending, thanks to my “Waiting For” task list.
Here’s how it works: if I write a co-worker asking them to research flight times, I then create a task in Basecamp (my preferred To Do system) titled “Flight Research for November Trip” with a deadline a couple days out. A couple of days later, Basecamp reminds me of the task and I either ask my co-worker about the status or check it off my list.
4. Create a task list for received emails
Using an inbox as a To Do list is not an efficient system (i.e., keeping emails in your inbox until you have completed the task required by the email). Rather than leaving emails in your inbox to end up buried or lost, create a To Do list of the tasks that are required and archive the emails. I always include the sender’s email address in the task so when I’m ready to work on the task, I can search for the corresponding email in my archive folder.
We all get dozens of subscriber emails every day, which can be avoided completely. If you’re subscribed to a list you don’t want to be on, take the time to unsubscribe. Don’t waste your time deleting emails from the same company multiple times a week.
Everyone I know has a different email system. It is important to create a system for yourself based on how your brain works. You can use some of the tips above to get to “Inbox Zero” and feel the sense of relief that I have found. I leave the office at night and no longer wonder what’s buried in my inbox. The peace of mind is worth the work it takes to stay on top of my email.
What are some of your best email tactics?