I believe in Inbox Zero. I always have, even before I knew it was a “thing.”
Inbox zero, for the uninitiated, means that you have NO emails in your inbox. In my case, that means that every email has been been taken care of, deleted, and/or filed away appropropriately. An inbox without any emails in it is a beautiful thing, and I strive for it. Not every day, but at least once a week.
It was important to keep on top of my emails when I was working a fast-paced job as an insurance broker. It’s important for me to keep on top of all the emails coming in from the kids’ school, from sports teams, and from family. And more than ever, it’s important for me to keep on top of my business-related emails (which come from blog readers, customers, PR firms, and everyone else you can ever imagine!).
Staying on top of my emails isn’t easy, though, and if you’ve ever sent me an email…you might already know this. I feel like I’m always running a few days behind! On some days, I feel like my emails are multiplying like Gremlins…and an inbox full of email (junk mail or not!) is super stressful.
Here’s how I get rid of my email clutter and how I stay on top of my email.
- If you have a crazy amout of emails that you need to sort through, start with the oldest. And honestly…if you have months’ and months’ worth of emails that are backed up in your inbox, it’s okay to delete them. No one is expecting a response months after they sent you an email.
- If you are behind on emails or have a huge amount to go through, sort emails by sender. Your email provider should have this option for sorting your emails. Then you can see the full email chain one place. This way. you wont waste time answering emails that have already been resolved. This is especially helpful if you have emails that might have multiple people copied on them.
- UNSUBSCRIBE. OK guys. This is the key. My #1 piece of advice! Unsubscribe to everything you can. Use a service like unroll.me to bulk unsubscribe to email subscriptions – my bet is, you don’t even know how many things you’re subscribed to! All that junk mail is weighing you down.
- “Roll up” the emails you don’t want to unsubscribe from, but also don’t need to see in your inbox every day. Again, I use unroll.me (and no, this is NOT a sponsored post for them!). Once you connect your email to their free service, you can see ALL of your email subscriptions in one place. You can scroll through your subscriptions (many of which you probably have no idea you’re even on…) in alphabetical order and choose to either unsubscribe, leave in your inbox, or “roll up.” Everything you choose to roll up will show up in one daily digest from unroll.me in your inbox each day. I ALWAYS open this and quickly glance through it. Occasionally, I find something I didn’t mean to roll up and will send it back to my normal inbox delivery. Sometimes, I find something I want to read – but I’ll keep it rolled up. But usually, I just see a bunch of nonsense that just adds noise and clutter that I don’t need to see every day, but that I’m not quite ready to unsubscribe from yet.
- Spend time on your emails every day. I start off my work morning by scrolling through my inbox. I delete everything I can delete. I answer the simple questions. I forward the customer service issues I get to customer service. I file away the emails that have been addressed or that I might want to keep for some reason. If an email is in my inbox, it needs to have a purpose. Right now, I have 18 emails in my inbox. I need to respond to several of them. A few of them have dates I need to write down. Another is an invoice I need to pay. As soon as I’ve completed the action items in the email, it will be filed away or deleted.
- Set up a simple filing system. I use folders for my emails. I have one for family, and then a bunch for work – things like Income and Expenses, Customer Service, etc. As soon as I’m done with an email, I can stick it in the appropriate folder.
- Routinely clean up your email lists. Every few weeks, I go in to unroll.me and unsubscribe to things and roll up more emails. People are CONSTANTLY adding me to lists – it’s shocking, actually, to log on and see how many new lists I’ve been added to! Every time I do this, I am more and more ruthless. As a result, the emails in my inbox are now mostly relevant…and not full of junk mail.
- Forward multiple emails addresses to one email. If you have several email addresses, have them all point to one central email that you check. This will save you time and energy, and this way you’ll only have ONE inbox to keep clean.
- Use an Out-of-Office auto responder when you’re out-of-town. I don’t want to be a slave to my email when I’m out of town. This helps set the expectation that I might be slow to respond. You can also use this to direct people to someone else for help.
Does this mean I never miss an email and that my response time is stellar?
Not always. But, even though it might take me awhile to get back to someone, I usually do. My inbox isn’t a black hole. It’s rarely overwhelming (I would have disagreed upon returning from my last vacation…ha).
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