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3 Steps Towards Inbox Zero

Email has never been more important or widespread — it’s essential to conducting business and keeping up personal connections. Achieving Inbox Zero seems such an insurmountable achievement. With so many emails coming into our inbox, it’s easy for things to get away on us. Half of internet users in the US have actually shut down an email account rather than deal with the build up of excessive spam in their account. Really!

Here are three tips to help keep your emails under control.

1. Stop checking every email as it comes in

If you get a hundred emails a day and your computer or phone makes a “ding” for every one of them, then you are going to have a very distracting day. Even if it only takes a few minutes to regain your focus, you’re losing hours a day to email checking.

Stop checking emails as they come in and schedule in blocks of time to address them instead. If you aren’t heavily reliant on emails, then try morning, noon, and night. If your job relies heavily on you being available, then schedule in more times to check your emails. If emails from certain clients are of a high priority, then change the settings in your email client. Like assigning people a special ring tone, some programs allow you to assign emails from certain people a special alert tone. Make adjustments where necessary but try and break the habit of pouncing on every email as it “dings” .. or better yet, turn notifications off, both visual and auditory.

In addition, if you aren’t prepared to act on that email (i.e. reply, schedule a follow up task, etc.) then simply don’t go there. Leave it alone until you are ready to act.

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2. Give yourself a time limit

It’s fine to check your email three time a day, but if each one of those instances takes hours, it’s all going to spill over into one long day of emails again. Start your new habit of Inbox clearing by doing just that — clearing out what’s not needed. Don’t start by oldest to newest or newest to oldest, just go through initially and delete what you know is spam, and put anything not immediately important into a different folder for later.

Unless you empty your trash bin every night, chances are you will be able to retrieve a deleted email if you realize a couple of days later that it was important .

After your initial run-through, look at what emails remain. If you can respond to each of these emails within a few minutes then do so. If it’s going to take longer to respond, put them in yet another folder so that you can concentrate on them properly a bit later.

3. Get your inbox cleared and keep it that way

It might sound impossible, but having a completely cleared inbox can be done. It won’t happen immediately, and you’ll have to keep on top of it, but with time and patience, you can keep that inbox at zero new messages.

Set aside time blocks for clearing emails. It might only need to be once a day or it might have to be a few times a day, just gauge based on how much damage has been done. Start with the newest emails and remember, if it will only take a few minutes to respond, do so, otherwise, it goes into the other folders. You should either be deleting, responding, or filing every email.

Eventually, you will get to the emails that are so old that they’ve already been dealt with in other ways. Your organizing will get faster and you will be able to delete or archive emails in bigger chunks. Keep at it every day, until it’s completely up to date.

When your inbox is finally cleared out, remember that it will only stay that way if you stick to your new-found habits. Putting a system in place (like response time rules and filing systems) is the first step. Being able to keep it up is the next one, so make sure that you have an incredibly easy and basic system in place to begin with.

Mobile phones mean that emails follow us wherever we go. Remember that you have a system and rules in place and you don’t have to respond to every alert you hear. Choose your email management tools wisely and keep your system streamlined.

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