If your email inbox is starting to manage you - rather than the other way around - here's how you can regain control of your electronic messages. The trick is doing it in a way that doesn't cause it to grow back like Hydra.
Adopt the touch-it-once approach
Time to adopt a whole new mindset when it comes to your uncontrollable email inbox. It's called "touch it once" - and everything else flows from it. When you open a new message you have four main alternatives:
- Respond - respond to the email message immediately if you can; get it out of your way now.
- Task - if you can't act on it immediately, put it on your to-do list for for when you can; you won't have to sort through emails to find what's pressing when time is right.
- Archive - banish non-actionable messages to email purgatory, otherwise known as the archive; search for it later; there's no need to create special folders.
- Delete (or spam) - how satisfying is it to zap a message when you see right away it's of no use to you; hit the "spam" button on the sleazy ones.
Start practicing this email triage now and watch it change your email management life. If you're having difficulty making the transition, you may need to take more brutal steps first.
Schedule a regular email blitz
A word like blitz might trigger unpleasant images of countries bombing each other. That's what you might have to do with your email inbox: schedule a regular eradication of its contents. Make this a regular part of your day, or week, or month if that works better for you.
Block out a regular time on your calendar to go in and completely clear out your inbox - remembering to touch messages only once.
File "email bankruptcy"
If nothing else works, you may need to take the severe step of declaring "email bankruptcy." Pick which of your most recent messages you need (or want) to keep, then select the remaining ones and hit delete. To calm your nerves, remember:
- If a message has been there a while it may no longer be pressing.
- No one is likely to die because you're cleaning out your inbox.
- Imagine how free you will feel when you're done.
If deleting a list of emails seems extreme you can always archive them instead.
Make emails a lesser priority
Now that you've taken the steps necessary to regain control over your inbox, you need to reduce its power over you. To stay in control, stop treating your inbox as your to-do list.
Tackle important tasks first each morning, then check your messages.