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Email Overload? 4 Ways To Conquer Your Inbox (REALLY)

A few months ago, I had more emails in my inbox than I cared for.

Okay, I confess my inbox was out of control. Even though I had a few systems in place to handle emails, clearly my systems weren’t working.

One night I glanced over to my husband’s screen and I noticed he barely had emails in his inbox.

I asked him, honey, how do you keep your inbox so clean?

He said, I practice a variation of the inbox zero method. “The whozawhatsit method?” I curiously replied.

He proceeded to tell me how he had mentioned this system and had sent me an email explaining the process, but due to my ”email system” I never saw the dang email – d’oh.

To make a long story short, I decided to do a search and voila I found his email. I watched the video he sent me about a method Merlin Mann, creator of the 43 Folders productivity blog, created called – Inbox Zero.

Mann’s basic idea is to go into your inbox fewer times per day and once in there, to touch each message as few times as possible. That is easier said than done.

As a matter of fact, according to a recent research the average person spends 2.5 hours a day sifting through an average of 147 messages. That’s over 15 hours a week reading and processing email! Can you say – time wasted?

In another study, Barley, Meyerson & Grodal (2011) measured perceived e-mail usage in relation to exhaustion and burnout. They found that e-mail is perceived as a source of stress – yikes!

Well, I decided to take matters into my hands and guess what, a few months later, I found the holy grail of my digital lifestyle – a clean inbox!

How did I do it?

First, I should warn you taking control of your inbox means changing your habits, you must be willing to make the initial investment, but it’s well worth the effort.

After watching and playing with Mann’s suggested system I tweaked his method and condensed it down to what I call the 4D’s of Graceful Email Management – Delete, Delegate, Do, and Drag.

Once I perfected this method, I shared it with my clients when they complained about being buried in email. I showed them how easily I keep my inbox under control.

This week as I whizzed by my emails I thought that perhaps you would like to know my secret to conquering the email monster.

Now, there are tons of systems out there, so if you have an email process you love, and it’s working then by all means stick with it!

But if you don’t, and email is getting the best of you and draining your productivity here’s how you can get a handle on email once and for all:

When an email arrives in your inbox you…

Oh wait, before I get to that here are some questions I sort of keep in the back of my head as I go through my emails:

Will this email help me make more money?
Can I use it if I need it again?
Does this email contain any new information?
Is this email part of a project for a client?

Okay, back to the system…

With those questions in the back of your head, when an email arrives in your inbox:

You will do the following…

Delete It (get rid of it) – before you do anything to the email – very quickly ask yourself the questions from above.

If you immediately answer “NO” to all of these questions then you will delete the email. Done. That should take you about a minute or so. Simple, eh?

Delegate – (give it to someone else to handle it. The ideal Scenario.)

If the email in question needs to be dealt with, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take care of it – right?

So, delegate it to someone else, internally, your assistant or another appropriate team member. The idea is to kick the habit of dealing with all the emails yourself.

Do – Act on it (then file it or delete it)

If you must take care of the email do so. However, follow the two-minute rule – If you can do what is being requested in less than two minutes, then deal with the email immediately.

Whip out the answer, and hit send – then file it or delete the email from your InBox.

Drag

If the email will take more than five minutes, and you don’t have time to deal with it right away then drag it to a folder.

Yes. I suggest you create the following folders to handle this step: End of Work Day, End of Week, Follow Up, Online Courses and Pleasure Reading.

End of Work Day

This folder is where you put emails that you’ll deal with on or after 2pm. Don’t worry about these emails too much, because you know they aren’t urgent and you’ll get to them later on that day.

End of Week

This folder is where you’ll drag emails that you’ll handle either on Thursday or Friday mornings. Again, you aren’t going to think about these emails or allow them to get you distracted by going into this folder throughout the day.

Get into the habit that if you drag an email to this folder you will not touch the email until the end of the week. You know you’ll take care of them by the end of the week since they aren’t urgent.

Follow Up

Oh yes, the good old follow-up emails. These emails are gold and most of the time they are the ones that will make you money. These emails are important, but not urgent. Drag the email into your follow-up folder if you don’t need to follow up the same day.

Once, again, get into the habit of touching this folder at a specific time each day. Once you build this habit, you know whatever you have in that folder will get a good following-up later on.

I tell you there is really no real action to these emails other than following up on the action item that is needed for that person or project at a later time.

Pleasure Reading

This folder is for the FYI stuff – you might or might not read it – and every few months you will delete anything that is older than 3 months – let’s be honest if you haven’t had time to look at them by then, most likely you never will.

Online Courses

This is an optional folder.

I’m a voracious learner and do take online course from time to time. So, I created a folder and subfolders specifically for when I take an online course. All emails related to the course will immediately be filtered into this folder.

There you have it four easy steps to regain control of your inbox.

The ultimate goal, of course, is for your assistant to handle all of your emails and send you what you absolutely need to take care of.

However, while you work yourself up to that level, try my simple system – it works a LOT better than keeping everything in your InBox, you’ll save a boatload of time. And here’s another perk, you’ll feel uber-organized too.

Top-Secret, Not-So-Secret, Secret Bonus: if you’ve subscribed to more lists than you can shake a stick at (who ever came up with that saying?,) there are a few software applications that allow you to easily remove yourself from lists you no longer want to be part of.

I’ve been playing with a service called UnRoll.Me to manage the lists I want and to remove me from lists I don’t want. After you get your email under control, check that tool out, it’s another time saver.

How are you doing with your inbox? If you’ve nailed down a system for keeping email under control, I’d love to hear about it. Post you comment below.

14 Comments

  1. Yvette, you totally pegged me, my inbox is ridiculously huge, yet I don’t seem to bother to deal with it, because I do like the feature of being able to search quickly and easily. You have inspired me to be a little more realistic, however, in the ‘will I ever need this again’ category and be quicker on the delete. Thanks.

  2. Yvette, this is great information!!! I plan on finding an accountability partner with whom to implement these changes (I work best in community). Thank you!

    • You’re welcome, Jocelyn!
      Having an accountability partner is the best to keep you on your toes!

  3. I would like to add to your awesome list of cleaning out your inbox. I love UnRoll.Me!!!! It takes list that you love all in one email.

  4. SUCH A VALUABLE POST! My inbox ix out of control… Thanks for the info. I’m putting it into action now 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Emily. Would love to hear your back after you put these strategies into action.

  5. Oh the trouble of the email inbox. I know there are more times than not my inbox is out of control. Thanks for the great tips on controlling our inbox! I will be definitely be trying some of these.

    • You’re welcome Cathy! Keep me posted.

  6. What a helpful and informative post. These are some great tips. Thank you!

    • You’re welcome, Yvelette!

  7. Sigh. 🙂 What I have done lately is unsubscribed from many email lists that come through my inbox. As much as I would like to read them all, the pleasure reading time just isn’t available. Instead I’ll go to the specific website or blog that I have bookmarked if I have time to read or need to find something. With less coming in it is easier to manage. Still much progress to be gained. Thanks for some of the other tips I want to try a few out.

  8. Yes, I have a few thousand emails in one of my accounts (I have 8 accounts, yikes) and it scares me. My phone lights up constantly. I try the zero inbox but it definitely gets away from me. Delegate was my favorite one, although Delete is a close second. I’ll keep working on it. Thanks for sharing this simple and insightful system!

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