The joy of an empty inbox

Remember the days when you looked in your email inbox and there was hardly anything there, and you were disappointed? Maybe you’ve forgotten that time. Then the drip of considered letters from people you wanted to hear from became an avalanche of stuff from people you didn’t. Now it’s a real business skill to be able to deal with email efficiently. People live in their email inbox: it’s open all the time, messages pop up as they’re received, and it can even be used as a calendar and to-do list.

A well-managed email attention strategy should reflect the priorities in your personal and business life. Look at your inbox, and I bet it’s full of stuff which is far, far away from being a priority. In fact, I bet it’s just full of stuff. And the key to not letting your life (or at least your working life) be taken over by email is to always process the inbox down to nothing.

You may have read about this – it’s an increasingly common technique, often called “inbox zero”. I’ve been watching enough videos and reading enough articles about it recently that it’s time I put it into action.

The important thing is not to check your email but to deal with it. Make a list of the things which you think can happen to email and make sure you perform one of these actions every time you read an email. A typical selection is: delete, delegate, respond, defer and do. In every case, however, the email should go out of the inbox.

Anyone who’s ever worked with me knows I’m a terrible email manager. They might not know that I use my inbox as a to-do list – which is a huge stress-inducer – but they do know that I often respond to emails within seconds, because emails constantly pop up on my computer desktop and interrupt me. All this has got to stop. I’m making a resolution to break this habit, and reduce email-related stress. If all this has had you nodding your head in recognition, why not consider joining me?

Discussion

  1. John Weet

    I put this into practise in Jan after reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen; I’m still keeping up with it and it’s a great feeling. Feeling far more productive too.

  2. Andrew Reynolds

    For me the first thing to do was turn off the highly distracting ‘new mail’ alert notification. That did wonders because it allowed me to finish a task without getting sidetracked by new e-mail. If you ever come up with “30-ways-to-improve-your-email-handling” – put me on the circulation list will you Chris?!

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