Reaching Inbox Zero

5 steps to stop your inbox from running your life and ruining your day

Back Web Only Aug 26, 2014 By Kelly Azevedo

Abandoning your email is sort of like running away from home: We all know you’ll be back by dinner time.

Whether we like it or not, email is here to stay. It’s speed, geographical ubiquitousness and 24/7 availability make it the fastest way to communicate from just about anywhere you can get wifi.

But it’s just as easy to send email as it is to receive it – and that can get overwhelming. Is your inbox a mess of thousands of messages you can’t keep track of? Use these five tactics to get to painlessly reach inbox zero:

1. Unsubscribe: Face it, there are some emails you’re never going to read – like the restaurant that gave you free appetizers for your email and now sends a daily deal, or the Save the Owls Fund that you haven’t thought about since donating 6 months ago. Take 5 seconds to unsubscribe from those lists.

The CAN-SPAM Act requires business commercial emails to provide an easy and clear way to remove yourself from those pesky mailing lists in every single email. Check, it’s usually right there in the footer!

2. Delete: After a week, most emails don’t even contain valuable information anymore. Online coupons expire and opportunities pass – keeping those emails is just a reminder of something you didn’t do. Take a deep breath, and hit delete as many times as necessary.

If you’re feeling adventurous, go nuclear and just delete anything older than 6 months.

3. Archive: If you don’t need to act on an email today, the best way to store it is in a folder archive.  In services like Gmail, you can create unlimited folders to store your emails, and there are multiple options for organizing those folders.

By default, most email folders are alphabetized. Place an asterisk in front of folders you want at the top of the list, or consider consolidating folders within a category – often called nesting. For example inside the “MONEY” folder can be PayPal receipts, invoices, people you owe an ice cream…

Consider your email folders to be like a filing cabinet – if something needs to be kept, at least organize the content in a way that makes it easier to find later.

4. Filter Automatically: The whole point of a great email system is that it saves time, and filtering is better than paying an assistant – and more reliable.

Every time you create a folder, set up a rule (also called filters in some systems) for which emails get automatically put into that folder. Instead of seeing hundreds of new emails in your inbox, dedicate 15-30 minutes during your work day to go through these folders.

Earlier this year I ignored my email for ten full days while cavorting in Mexico, and I came back to less than 100 emails. Most of them already were already filtered into the appropriate folders for me.

5. Outsource: As your business grows, delegation will be key. What better place to start than with email? By setting up some simple criteria and training a team member, or even virtual assistant, to manage your inbox, you’ll be freed up to work in the business rather than fielding requests.

Instead of quitting email or dumping the task on an unsuspecting assistant, use these simple steps to automate its flow, and save hours each week – as well as your sanity.


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