I began this posting a while ago, and like many of the drafts sitting in my Drafts folder, I forgot about it. However inspired by Penelope Trunk’s posting I am reincarnating this post. While Penelope mentions that some times it’s better not to have an empty inbox, because it means you’re doing more important things, as a person with a “regular” day job and then however many personal jobs/hobbies I have at home I find it liberating to have an empty Inbox.
Getting things Done
I have read and followed many of the Getting Things Done (GTD) habits inspired by David Allen. While I don’t agree with everything he says, or with everything anyone says for that matter, my first foray into emptying my Inbox was inspired by his books and his newsletters.
I’ve seen an Inbox with hundreds and sometimes thousands of messages in them. More often that not there is a similar smattering of bolded emails, i.e. unread, and unbolded emails, i.e. read. Everyone has their “system” that they use and I’m fine with that, but from experience as a sender of emails to someone with an Inbox like this, the response rate is typically quite low. Why is that the case?
Lack of response
I think the lack of response to email is due to a combination of the following factors:
1. “Smart phones” are used in a search for “emergency” messages. They are used to quickly scan most emails that come in. However the bulk of emails require more thought to actually respond. Unfortunately, by looking at an email on a “smart phone” the message becomes marked as “read” and thus it is no longer bolded in the Inbox.
2. People don’t have the time (or rather make the time) to respond properly to emails.
3. Email is not used properly. Too often emails are sent without any substance, objective or question. And people don’t know what to do with this so instead of taking action, they leave it in the Inbox.
4. People don’t know how to use the search capabilities of their email program.
4a. People don’t know how to use folders or labels. This makes searching way easier.
Empty your inbox
If you want to have a more productive day, week or month there are some very simple steps that can be taken to empty your inbox and get a hold on your work life.
1. Set up folders. Don’t know how? Then learn, i.e. Google it. I’m sure there are thousands of YouTube videos that will teach you how to use folders or labels with your email program.
2. Move emails in to folders that no longer require any action from you. If you’re saving them for a reference, then save them away somewhere. This is like filing paper in a filing cabinet. File it in a folder so that you don’t need to worry about it but you’ll know where it is when you “need” it.
3. Create a folder for “Action Items”. Put anything that requires a response or requires action on your part into this folder. Every time you check your email you should be able to do one of three things, take action and respond, put the email in an appropriate folder, put the email in your action folder for later.
4. Read your emails on a schedule and close your email program when you want to get work done. Set times to read, respond, store emails. Take a dedicated time slot like from 12-12:30 and do this. Then close your email program.
5. Empty your Inbox whenever possible. It’s liberating!
More advanced tips
1. Learn to set up filters so that some emails automatically go in to folders.
2. Develop habits to check these other folders on a regular basis, but not as a part of your every day routine.
Manage your email, manage your life
If you are managing your email and not letting your email manage you then you are in control. Being in control allows you to do things with your life that you want to do. Having a full Inbox sometimes puts so much pressure on people that they instead do nothing and the pile of email just gets bigger and bigger. The time is now to take action. It’s up to you.