I regularly see people with email in-boxes that are bursting at the seams. They have a mixed bag of things to do, items to ponder, notes to reference and all sorts of other clutter. The good news is that there is a better way.
No matter how big your inbox is, you can clear it out in four simple steps. Anyone has the potential to become one of those email masters that we dream about.
Step 1: Tighten your folders (10 minutes)
Many people use folders. The trouble is they often have such a long, unwieldy list of folders that it becomes far too tedious to put anything away. We need to simplify the act of getting items out of our inbox.
Tighten your list by establishing ~5-15 main folders. Here is a snapshot of my main folders.
Notice that I have numbered the main folders. This allows me to order them according to my choosing.
Once your main folders are established, you can drag and drop all other folders underneath them.
Step 2: Remove All Old Emails (5 minutes)
Add one more folder to the bottom of your list called “SORT”.
Move all emails from before a fairly recent cut-off date (e.g., 6 weeks ago) into this folder.
Your inbox should now be a fraction of the size that it used to be.
Resist the urge to go through each of these old emails right now. You can certainly go back and quickly sort through these old emails afterward you’ve completed step 3. Although you could probably never look at them again and everything will be just fine.
Step 3: Clear Your Inbox (2 hours)
Now is the fun part. Block off approximately two hours for your inbox clean-up. Go to the bottom of your inbox and start working through your emails.
Use the Touch it Once principle to complete tasks. Delete or file emails as you go. Be ruthless here – force yourself to make decisions and deal with items. If you want to reflect on something for possible action down the road, file it away. Just add the item to your long-term To Do List so you don’t forget about it.
Only permit yourself to leave a handful of emails in your inbox. Think of your inbox as a short-term To Do List. All other shoulda/coulda/woulda’s need to be removed.
At the end of this phase, you should now have less than 20 emails in your inbox. You should see some white space and should no longer see a scroll bar. Wow – doesn’t that feel amazing?
Step 4: Become an Email Warrior
Commit to keeping your inbox clear for 30 days. Batch process your email throughout the day to stay current. When tasks start to build up, it is a sign that you need to get more ruthless about what tasks you do (and do not) accept.
30 days from now, when your inbox is still relatively clear, you deserve a pat on the back.
You are now an Email Warrior.
We’d love to hear from you! If you are succeeding at keeping your inbox clear, please share your secret!