Even with the rise of social networks over the past decade, email is still a primary communication tool when it comes to business. It’s quick and effective, but it can also be extremely overwhelming if you don’t take care of your inbox.
Of all the stressors you face at work every day, your inbox shouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the list. The reason inbox zero is a productivity tactic people still haven’t stopped talking about is because it works. There’s nothing more discouraging than opening your inbox and seeing floods and floods of unread and unanswered emails staring back at you.
Here are five simple and helpful steps you can take right now to achieve inbox zero and finally take charge of your email for good.
Step 1: Designate a time, and a time limit, for checking email
Achieving inbox zero by checking every single email you get throughout the day might get the job done, but it isn’t the best way to go about it. You are much better off designating specific times of day for checking your email, such as once a day around lunch time, or once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Focus only on email during those times, so you can get through them as quickly and efficiently as possible. Your goal should be to reply only to the emails that need replies, and labeling, archiving or deleting the rest.
Don’t spend more than 10 minutes checking, sorting and replying to emails in one sitting. This might mean you will need to start practicing how to more concisely reply to those emails that need responses. Most urgent emails don’t need lengthy replies. Once you are done sifting through emails, close out your inbox and don’t check it again until the next designated time you have previously set for yourself.
Step 2: Send all your emails to the same inbox
It might be simple to achieve inbox zero if you have an account that doesn’t get very many emails, but if that’s the case, you probably have one or two others that receive all the rest of your messages. It’s not easy to keep track of multiple email inboxes at once, and with plenty of forwarding options built into most email servers, it isn’t difficult to bring your number of inboxes down, maybe leaving just one for you to check a few times every day.
Aside from separating work emails from personal emails (you can even give them separate labels and keep them in the same inbox), consolidate your email inboxes so you only have to check one set during work hours and the other during your down time in the evenings and on weekends. That way you only have one or two inboxes to focus on, instead of multiple.
Step 3: Sort emails into folders or labels
Organizing your emails is the next step on your journey to achieving and maintaining inbox zero. You receive emails from multiple addresses every day, all for different purposes. Even though you might not be the type of person to separate messages into separate folders, this tactic is going to save you a lot of time and energy later.
Labels and folders are the email life savers you never knew you needed. You can create any categorization system within your email you want to. You can separate emails by work and personal mail, mail from friends, automatic receipts when you make purchases, and so on. You can often set things up so emails from a specific address automatically get filtered into a specific label or folder.
Step 4: Delete emails you will never need to look at again
It is tempting to click open an email, read it and then leave it right where it is, whether you have replied to it or don’t need to do anything more with it. Though at first it might seem unnecessary, the best thing you can do for yourself in order to get your inbox clear is to delete it right away if you aren’t going to file it somewhere. If you don’t need it right now, chances are pretty high you won’t need it later.
If the idea of deleting emails forever makes you uneasy, servers like Outlook and Gmail let you archive emails. This way they still exist in a folder you never see, just in case you need to go retrieve one of them at some point. The purpose of inbox zero is to clear out emails: it doesn’t matter where they go, as long as they are out of sight for the time being so you can focus on other things.
Step 5: Download an app to help you keep your inbox clear
There is a lot of tech out there that can help you more effectively achieve inbox zero, even beyond the mail app that comes with your phone or a Gmail or Yahoo app. Inbox zero is one of those achievements that makes you feel as though you are on top of your work and managing all your affairs. App creators understand how important it is, especially the creators of Taper.
Taper lets you use whichever email service you want to collect and sort through emails. It retrieves emails for you and brings them all to one place so you don’t have to. The catch? It only lets you keep five emails visible in your inbox at once. To get the next five, you first have to archive the ones you have, move them to a specific folder, flag them or get rid of them completely.
Inbox zero is completely achievable, and you are wise to add it to your to-do list. Designate specific times for checking email, but don’t dwell on it. Have one inbox, and separate all those emails into categories to make your life easier. Get rid of unwanted emails, no matter how uncomfortable that might make you feel, and use an app to help you keep up with your tidy, mostly empty inbox. Your life is about to get a whole lot easier.