Getting Control of Your Email Inbox
After successfully managing my Inbox with learnt methods now for 2 years, I feel more productive and less stressful when I look at the increasing number next to the tiny folder icons.
It still stresses me out a bit to see some people's inboxes have stopped counting and now only say "9999+ new" next to the envelope image. How did I think running my own business, I would be able to keep on top of my emails as they were?
As you know I'm very into my productivity practices and love learning new processes to try out. My previous job before starting DigiEnable involved being very desk based a lot of the time, so it was super easy to manage emails when they came in. I wasn't ever one of those that would get distracted too much from the notifications, as my role was quite bitty actions on a daily basis, and if I had big bits of work to do, I'd close Outlook down. So when I was no longer permanently desk based, and now I travel around the UK a lot, it's not as easy to keep up with the influx. A few hours can go by, goto a few meetings, look at my phone and have a new block of emails to interact with.
When you start a business, you setup a new email address, you can keep on top of the emails at the start, there's only a few people that know it! 2 years into DigiEnable and I was at inbox overflow, and it started to become a constant anxiety on my mind. The last thing I wanted to do was miss out on replying to someone's email!
So after reading a lot of blogs and books, I tried some method out, before coming up with my own that worked for me.
And here's a video of the Inbox Zero famous Merlin Mann talking at Google about his processes and the reasons behind it...
Mann's Inbox Zero concept suggests you only ever touch an email once, and decide if it's actionable within 2 minutes (then do it there and then), or Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer, or Do. He got his inspiration from the "Getting Things Done" process, which has similar options. The idea to always "process to zero". His focus wasn't so much getting the Inbox to Zero, but not being controlled by it!
“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your attention, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many messages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann
Some suggest it's better to cut your losses and start again if you want to start this process but have the 9999+ unread messages. I'd suggest marking everything as "read" so it gets rid of the new emails counter, and make a new folder called "Archive" and move everything into it. Then start from today! Yes TODAY! Select all + Delete should ONLY be an option if you don't care about your contacts or clients... so erm NO not a good idea!
Top Tips for a Productive Inbox
Don't Let the Notifications Control your Plans - Just because it went "bing" or "blip" doesn't mean it's urgent. If it was so important, wouldn't they contact you in a different way?
Don't Confuse your Inbox with your To-Do List - Once you've got into a routine of processing your inbox, don't keep you "to-dos" in there. If someone has asked you to do something, or there's a new booking coming up - get it out of your inbox and somewhere else that's relevant - your To-Do List or your Calendar are usually the defaults, then use Reminders to remind you when it's more appropriate to do the work. Leaving the original email in the inbox, runs the risk of getting swamped and lost.
Don't Store Your Files in your Inbox - If someone in your team is sharing an updated version of a document, put it on a share drive, not in your inbox. Once you've used the file you need, is there a better place it can live?
Have Clear Out-Of-Office Responses - An out of office is your first line of defence to an easy-to-clear-inbox if you're away from your desk for more than a few days. Is there someone else who can deal with their email or enqury instead of waiting for you to get back? When do you plan on responding if at all to their email? Are there specific details you want to share with different email from different domains? For example you can have a different out of office for those on the same @email.co.uk domain as you if you're working for an organisation with hosted email.
Schedule Time to Check In - I try to schedule time throughout my day to blast through my emails. I then will go to my "Actions Needed" folder at the start and end of each day to see what I can close off.
Email Etiquette - No, it does not always need you to "Reply to all". We have great email etiquette in our business, being clear on what's just an "FYI" or what needs an "Urgent" response makes everyones processing time shorter.
And lets take a final inspiration from Merlin Mann...
Delving Deeper - Not Just the Emails that come in! What can you reject from your inbox completely. What newsletters are you subscribed to you never actually read? Or would they be more suitable to add to your News Feed Reader app? I've also got a pet hate for people who connect with me on LinkedIn and start sending me emails I haven't signed upto *unsubscribes*. Don't think that's ever OK, please! Filter and Folders are your friends - all my non-urgent emails go into different folders, Newsletters are filtered based on topic so I can easily sort through, and I have a few different folders for project archives so it's easy to find the right email to reference back if I need to. Once I've seen something I'd like to "Read Later" I open the website page and add it to my Pocket account using a Chrome Extension.
I'm currently working through my optimum version of my Email Processing System and looking for a Zen like calm name for it - any good ideas?
Any questions you have on bosting your Productivity or InboxZero, please use the comments section below on my social media channels above. How are your inboxes coming along?