If you’re like most people you have a million things going through your mind each and every day. On top of that, you probably receive massive amounts of emails every day that clutter up your inbox and make you feel a little bit stressed every time you open it up.
As great as email is for quick correspondence, it can also become a time waster for many people. If you want to feel less stressed and become more productive today, you need to get control over your email inbox!
For many years I hated using email because every time I opened up my inbox I would feel overwhelmed. It seemed like there were always more messages than I could handle. What I finally realized is that it wasn’t email that I disliked, it was the clutter and stress that email created in my life.
After reading the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, I realized the importance of having an organization method for my email inbox.
Would you ever let your physical mail pile up on your desk and never open it? If you did I’m sure you would feel extremely overwhelmed by the clutter it would create. Also you would most likely experience some issues due to not opening and responding to critical messages.
Email is no different. Just like with physical mail, some of the items in your inbox need to be addressed immediately. However, many items either don’t need to be addressed immediately or are complete junk.
The key to getting a grasp on your email inbox is to do a great job at quickly filtering the items and assigning them the correct actions.
5 Steps to Get Control of Your Inbox
- Do you need to take action on this email? Some mail that we receive needs to have action taken immediately. Other messages may just be for reference, or may even be junk.
- Do it, delegate it, or defer it. This is the hierarchy that was outlined in Getting Things Done. I apply this to every email on which action needs to be taken.
- Ask yourself, “Am I the right person to deal with this email?” Sometimes we receive emails that truly need to be handled by someone else. If this is the case delegate this task by forwarding the email to someone else.
- If you are the person that needs this message then ask yourself the question, “Can it be done in less than two minutes?” If your answer is yes, go ahead and respond to the email.
- If responding to the message will take more than two minutes, perhaps you need to do research or something first, you will want to defer the message until a later time when it can be handled.
- Get rid of the junk. Many messages that we received, even if our inbox doesn’t classify them as junk, really are junk. If it is not something that you need to take action on, and not something that you need to save for later reference, just delete it.
- Defer to the correct folders. The key to deferring messages without forgetting about them is to defer them to the correct folders. You can create a folder for anything that may have numerous messages each month. However, try not to create too many folders. I recommend creating at least these two folders:
- Create an @ActionSupport folder. Place messages in here that you need to take immediate action on, but that take more than two minutes.
- Create a @WaitingFor folder. Place messages in here that you are waiting on a response for.
- Get your inbox to zero every day! Each and every day go through the above steps to get your inbox to zero. All items should have either been moved to an action folder so that you can take action at the next appropriate time, have been filed in their respective folder for later reference, or deleted. Be consistent. Do this everyday. It will only take a few minutes to keep your inbox organized if you don’t skip days and let the messages pile up.
*The reason for the @ symbol at the beginning of each of those two folders is to help keep it at the top of your folder list. This will help as you create more and more folders
The first time that you go through your inbox and apply these steps may take you a little bit of time. However, maintaining the organization once it has been set up takes just a few minutes per day.
I recommend only checking email a few times per day if possible, and each time only focusing on the messages that you can do in less than two minutes. At the end of your day you can open up your inbox and run through these steps to get your inbox to zero before you go home for the evening.
Removing the clutter of email from your life can greatly reducess your stress and make you more productive immediately!
If you want to go more in-depth on these organization methods I highly recommend that you read the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. In my opinion it is the best book on organization, productivity, and task management.