Simplify your inbox and simplify your life
Despite the amazing benefits of email, addressing the inbox can be a never-ending task. Multiple unanswered emails make us feel overwhelmed, especially when we have important deadlines to meet. And when we fail to keep on top of things, the emails seem to multiply causing further unease.
There are a few effective ways to manage and process your inbox to instil a little calm in your life. My favourite method is the Inbox Zero technique which is based on a common sense approach involving converting each email into an action. It’s the way I’ve always worked and so I was amazed when I discovered the process has a name! If you have one or more inboxes, managing them in a systematic way will help liberate a little time. Making space for the people and things that bring the greatest joy.
How to process your inbox..
Schedule times to process your inbox
Plan regular times to tackle your inbox and stick to them. This could be as little as once a day or as often as every hour. Processing emails in batches is super-efficient and you may even find you enjoy the process a little more! It’s wise to keep your email accounts closed while you’re working on other things to avoid distraction. I’ve turned off all the notifications on my computer and phone to avoid the temptation to check.
Process and clear your inbox
View the inbox as simply a holding area for the emails you haven’t read. Once they have been processed they should be deleted or filed. To do this you may wish to create a few folders. The Inbox Zero technique suggests only two: pending and archive. But I prefer a pending file plus one for each project I’m working on, probably not so efficient but it works for me.
Emails can be processed as follows..
1. Forward, delete or junk
Many emails can be deleted, marked as junk/spam or forwarded to the person or people they apply to. If you receive a lot of unnecessary emails or are copied into conversations that don’t apply, then move swiftly through these actions. Delete or archive each email as you work your way down the list. This is my favourite action because it removes a lot of emails at once!
2. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe!
Consider every notification, invitation, newsletter etc. that arrives in your inbox and decide if it adds value. If it doesn’t, simply take a moment to unsubscribe from the mailing list. It’s really worth taking the time to do this.
3. Short response
Many emails only require a short response and these can be immediately addressed. Once complete the email should be deleted or filed. If you receive numerous emails requiring a similar reply, it’s wise to create some draft response templates. This will save time and enable you to quickly get to whatever you’d rather be doing!
4. Long response
A few emails will require a longer response or further information needs to be sought before a reply can be written. These emails can be moved to the pending folder for later attention. I advise scheduling a time to routinely check this folder. Once an email has been processed it can be deleted or filed.
And finally, it’s not only efficient but also kinder to keep your emails short. We’re all juggling a lot of stuff so being clear and concise will help the person receiving it. And in many cases, it will stop you receiving a lengthy reply in return! I’ve recently read that some people even write ‘no need to reply’ when they send an email that doesn’t require a response. I think this is a brilliant idea!
Processing my inboxes in this way means I don’t dip in and out throughout the day. And without the constant distraction I can focus on one task at a time. Definitely a more efficient way of working. After all, I’m all for working smarter, not harder!
Do you have a system to process your inbox?
My inbox processing method originally appeared in Breathe, issue 2.