How I keep my email inbox empty, always.
Email organization is an important part of how I keep my business and my client's work in order. Often there are multiple ongoing projects, check-ins, important emails, and other information I need to refer back to later.
A lot of people opt for leaving all their emails in their inbox, for me this can be overwhelming. I like to utilize my email inbox more like a checklist of things I have not looked at yet, or are really important and need to be followed up with right away.
I’ve come up with a process for checking and organizing email that has a few basic changes to start and two steps to follow every time you check messages from now on.
I encourage those who receive 200+ emails a day to still take some of these ideas and apply them where you are able.
What to Change
Stop letting emails interrupt your day.
The first change is the hardest one to convince others is possible but makes the biggest difference.
When you are mobile, turn off the fetching new data function for your mail. It cuts down on the number of potential distractions from an email notification and saves your phone battery.
(+100 points if you can handle turning off notifications altogether, I’m not there yet.)
I’ve chosen some regular times I intentionally (more on that below) check my email that works around my and my client’s schedules.
This has become easier and easier over time as I get used to this process.
Define your organizational system
See if this works for you or inspires a system that will
Clean your inbox COMPLETELY
Sort emails into respective folders, delete messages you know aren’t important, and be honest with yourself. When looking at things you “always meant to read” or “need to keep”, if you haven’t read it in over 6 months and it doesn’t pertain to something legal/tax related; consider letting it go.
It’s amazing once you give yourself this permission, how fast the clean up is.
This completes the initial part of the process. The two steps that follow are what I practice on a daily basis when checking email. Just like all habits, this took a while for me to become consistent with, stay on it!
Intentional Email Checking
Acknowledge when it's really a good time to check emails.
First thing upon opening your eyes in the morning? Nope. Standing in line while you wait for your coffee? Only if you want to send a poor response. In the middle of a stressful moment when you’re attempting to check out from the situation? No, not then either.
When you have time to sit down at your computer (or mobile without distraction) and commit to reading, responding, and sorting your new messages? Yes. Then.
Remember, if your phone is no longer fetching your emails for you and you’re checking them manually, you might be unsure how many emails will come in. I like to give myself a solid 30-minute window, most of the time this is more than I need.
Sort. Reply. Sort.
Anything that can move into a folder without a response goes first. Quick responses second. Long responses that I have the time to reply to are third. Anything that needs more information or requires a longer time to respond moves to a follow-up folder.
The follow-up folder is not your junk mailbox. Move things here that you intend to respond to/read in 2–3 days. Anything else should get it’s own designated folder.
With this system I’ve been able to keep work frustrations down, realize that most fires are not as large as I make them out to be, and I’ve yet to run into an emergency where not checking my emails at my designated times (before 10am, before 2pm, after 5pm) has caused me to miss something important.
If this seems like way too much of an undertaking, but you’d love a clean inbox. Or you’re not sure how to set up this system to work for you, drop me a line I’d love to help you get there.
Questions? Think I’m crazy/this is impossible? Leave me a comment below :)
photo by luis llerena // cc