Clear that inbox once and for all time!
As someone who has managed many other people's email inboxes for work, I can also proudly tell you that right now I have three emails sitting in my inbox and zero of them are unread! And, I get a lot of emails...
Yes, this does seem to have become a source of pride that I should work at killing, but I also really struggle when I see a friend's notification on their phone or when they tell me that they have hundreds (or thousands!) of unread emails. I'm my mind I'm yelling, "HOW DO YOU EVEN SLEEP AT NIGHT?". Yes, this is definitely an issue I need to work on, I know.
But here it is. My simplest, most effective and efficient solution to keeping your inbox manageable. Even if you seem to have ludicrous amounts coming in daily, this is going to help you I promise!
This may put me out of work, but I'm keen to help those that I can.
Ok, here we go:
When you see an unread email, there are three options of what you need to do with it
Respond & Archive: open it, read it, respond to it and do whatever is required (e.g. create a task or put it in your calendar and then hit the archive button. It's done and dealt with! Woo!
Respond & Keep It In Your Inbox: If you respond to an email but are waiting for something to happen in relation to it e.g. the response is important or you're waiting for more information or you need to do something with the information, keep it in your inbox so you don't forget about it.
Archive: send it straight to the keeper! This is for emails that are a final send off from somebody e.g. an email thread that is finished and someone's sent you a "That's great. Thanks!".
There is a fourth option that I'd suggest does not need to happen regularly, but will happen.
4. Leave it as Unread: Read it, decide to deal with it later BUT leave it as Unread so it stands out as one that you need to do something with.
Archive. Never delete! And no, don't put them into folders. That's too confusing and creates extra work for no reason. Just use the search bar.
Unsubscribe from everything you don't read! Just do it, it will take you 3 seconds in total per useless newsletter you're subscribed to. Face it! You don't read it, so why let it clog your inbox (and, subsequently your brain space and stress levels).
Archive everything older than 6 months (or less if you're game). Be honest with yourself, if you haven't read that email from a year ago you're never going to. But if someone does mention it, you can search for it because it's still there (see point 1)!
Don't spend too long on your emails. Check them as often as you believe you need to but don't spend your life at your email. Sorting them and responding to what you need to shouldn't be a major time consumer.
We can so easily become slaves to our emails, to the point where we believe our job is being at our inbox all day. When the truth is, your best work happens when your email browser is closed. Don't let your inbox be a source of stress - here's the easy solution to set you free!
I'd love to hear how you go putting this into practice! Get in touch with me via firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it worked for you or if you have other thoughts, suggestions or questions. I'm happy to help!