We all have that one annoyingly perfect coworker who keeps an empty inbox (ah-hem, Tiffany). And, we're ashamed by the 43 unread messages in our own inbox. According to the latest stats from the Radicati Group, by 2019, the number of emails sent and received daily will total over 246 billion. They project that in 2017, 120.4 billion business emails are sent and received every single day. The average number of emails sent and received by each business email user is 124 per day. The numbers are staggering - no wonder getting your email under control makes just about every list of productivity tips out there. It’s easy to see how this can be a huge time suck for most workers.
In the spirit of Spring Cleaning, I’ve pulled together some tips for bringing “the life-changing magic of tidying up” to your email inbox:
- Implement a Simple Filing System. No need for subfolders and all the added layers of complexity. Marie Kondo, famous organization expert, recommends two categories for email: “Unprocessed” and “Save.” Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits, recommends “Action” and “Temporary Archive” folders for email.
- Start with a clean slate. If your inbox is too overwhelming to deal with, start by moving everything into your “Unprocessed” or “Temp. Archive” folder. You can set aside time to process these emails - most of which you’ll probably be able to delete in a batch. You might be able to process these old emails all at once (as Kondo would advise), but if it is truly overwhelming, you can do it for 5 minutes a day until you’re done.
- Do it all at once. Turn off your email notifications so you don’t get interrupted each time there’s a new message; this will cut down on the stress and distraction of email. Kondo recommends setting aside a block of time each day (or even a few times during the day) for reading and replying to messages all at once. Babauta recommends these steps for processing your inbox:
- Start at the top and open the first email. Once you’ve read it, do one of these 4 things: delete it, archive it (if you will need it later), quickly reply (a few sentences) then delete/archive, or put it on your to-do list and file it in your Action folder.
- Do this for all emails, spending no more than 20 seconds on each.
- Only start working on the Actions once you’ve processed all of your emails.
- Delete liberally and use filters. If you don’t need it, delete it. Take the few seconds to unsubscribe from any newsletters or promotional emails that clutter your inbox. This will cut down on future noise. If you get some notifications or newsletters that you do want to see but don’t want to clutter your inbox, set up filters in your email so that these messages go straight to a different folder that you can process at a set time. Maybe you set aside 20 minutes on Friday mornings to read blog posts, for example.
- Remove as many distractions as possible. One way to cut down the clutter is to eliminate sending and receiving some emails altogether. In addition to unsubscribing and using filters, you can also take advantage of collaboration tools to make communicating more efficient. For example, if you are a Rhythm software user, instead of sending an email about a project with an attachment, login to Rhythm, go to the priority for that project, and add a comment and an attachment there. This way, everything you need to know about that project is all in the same place, and your team can collaborate with you right there, where you are doing the work, rather than over email.
Hopefully, these tips will help you keep a clutter-free inbox that reduces the stress and chaos of those hundreds of emails a day. Think of all the time you’ll have for actually getting work done now!
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