The boss calls a meeting with all employees for the sole purpose of mandating they clean out their Inboxes due to server capacity overload. The worst offender had 20,000 unread emails.
Email is our best friend AND worst enemy. We rely on it for essential information. Yet, it overwhelms us daily
The Inbox full of unread email is a cognitive drain on our brains. Even the “read” emails are a burden. Those are the ones we’ve read and let it stay in the Inbox – so we know they need more reflection and action.
Dozens of books and courses exist to teach and train us how to manage our email. Skip those – here’s my method, called See the Bottom.
Step 1: Unsubscribe
Your Inbox is full of emails that you have chosen to Opt-In. You probably had a good reason for opting-in. You wanted to receive the free guide, ebook or take a quiz. Get brutally honest. If you’ve read a half-dozen from a particular sender and find no value, look for the unsubscribe link at the bottom.
Step 2: Read Later Folders
Some emails have value, but we need to review them later – not in the middle of a busy day. Create a folder named “Read Later” and drag the email to the folder. Put an item on your calendar for Friday: “Review the Reader Later Folder”.
Don’t use the Inbox as a to-do list reminder. If you need more categories, create multiple folders, such as: “Read Later: Sales” or “Reader Later: Personal” or “Read Later Project X”.
Step 3: Needs Work Folder
This is for any email you’ve read that requires you to perform work (not just read). Set a daily reminder on your calendar to Review the Needs Work Folder. If you need more granularity, create a Needs Work ASAP and a Needs Work Soon folder.
Step 4: The Purge
If you’ve got an Inbox with no bottom in sight, set aside 30 minutes per day to quickly go through it and file, delete or unsubscribe. It took me about 7 days to clean up my Inbox. The last emails I deleted were 9 years old!
I reviewed the recent emails carefully. But, once I got to the ones that were older than 6 months – I just looked for names of significant contacts or subject lines, and if I didn’t see any, I would highlight and DEL every email on the screen.
The first time you see white space at the bottom of your Inbox it’s quite uplifting. You’re no longer carrying the baggage of hundreds or thousands of unread emails.
Step #5: See the Bottom Every Day
Make this a daily routine or you’ll fall back into bad habits. Near the end of your day, make sure you can see the bottom.
I don’t adhere to a zero Inbox philosophy for two reasons. First, it’s fleeting; an incoming mail is usually only one minute away. Second, for some reason – I don’t like the emotional context of a totally empty Inbox. It feels too neat. Leaving a few items in the Inbox lets me know where I’ll start the next day.
Step #6: Enforcement
My method is simple. The execution is problematic. We get to the bottom for a week or two. Then we skip the principle on Wednesday, then Thursday, Friday etc. Before long we’re back where we started.
Tip #1: Put a reminder on your calendar that is 15 minutes before usually stop work. The reminder says: See the Bottom.
Tip #2: Use a wall calendar and write a “B” in the corner of each day you reach the bottom. Try to not break the chain of continuous “B” days. The calendar on the wall is low-tech and usually more effective than a calendar app you can hide.