For most of us, the first thing we check when we log into our computers is our email. 

And if you only have one email, I’m shocked.

So whether we’re bouncing from tab to tab or app to app, the first thing we see each day is a long list of people wanting our attention.  Clients have questions, businesses want us to buy things, bills want to be paid.

And it’s all right there staring us in the face before we’ve even gotten that first gulp of coffee down.

And then we have to deal with it. 

We have to delete the sales emails we don’t care about, somehow flag the emails that we can’t answer right this second, but don’t want to forget about, and reply to at least a handful (which just means there will be new emails to deal with before long).  

Before you know it, it’s 45 minutes later and the number of emails in your inbox has barely changed.

And all of those emails left are there to taunt us as unfinished tasks.  Knowing they are there waiting for us makes us avoid our inbox.

But what if you had a system in place that actually allowed you to get to that fabled “inbox zero”?

What if your inbox sorted itself and left you with only a few clicks to get it all taken care of?

It’s possible.

First, use an app that gives you control over more than one inbox at a time.  

I don’t recommend simply forwarding all of your emails to one inbox, but use an app that will allow you to view multiple inboxes either together or separate.  My choice for this is Spark.

Second, set up a reliable filing system for each inbox.  

While the search function in most email apps is robust, a layer of organization is still good for you.  My strategy is to use folders for clients, tools/resources, and people. This allows me to quickly navigate to what I need.  I also recommend a label or folder title “@waiting” so that you can quickly review emails that need a follow-up, but they don’t bog up your inbox when there’s no current action for you to take.

Third, use filters to separate your main types of emails.  

Spark automatically sorts emails into personal, newsletters, and notifications—and I’ll admit that it’s pretty accurate.  All of your human-generated emails go to personal, so you can quickly see which REAL PEOPLE are asking you questions. Automated emails land themselves in notifications – at a quick glance, you’ll see emails from PayPal, etc all in one place.  And lastly, you have newsletters, which is where you’ll find anything you’ve subscribed to.  

If you need to take it a step further, you can create custom rules and filters in most email apps.  If you have notifications coming in that you don’t want to turn off, but don’t need to take action on, you could create a filter or rule that automatically marks them read and files them away in the correct folder.

Fourth, create an email triage plan.  

For me, this is a couple of times a day where I scan my inbox, reply to anything that takes less than 2 minutes and file away everything else.  If it’s something that I will need to take action on later, I forward it to my task manager (Amazing Marvin) and file the email appropriately. This means that unless I need something specific, I can keep my email shut and focus on the actual work at hand.

Bonus Items

Unsubscribe from all the things!  

Look at what emails you actually open instead of just deleting.  We subscribe to so many newsletters just so we can get a free download or resource, but if we’re not opening the emails after that, then receiving them doesn’t serve us or the sender.  Sure, you feel bad about unsubscribing, but you really shouldn’t. It helps their deliverability and open rates if you unsubscribe because you’re no longer interested or opening their emails. 

Sync your calendar.  

Having emails automatically add meetings and events to your calendar reduces the actions you have to take.

Use different email addresses.  

If you have *that much* going on, perhaps consider separate emails for certain things.  For instance, a special email for current clients can help ensure you never miss another important email.  It also makes it easier to give your assistant access when you’re on vacation or out sick. I’m also a huge fan of an [email protected] email for all of the tools and platforms you sign up for.  

Final Thoughts

It’s okay to let things linger.  “Inbox zero” isn’t a perfect method.  Having your inbox under control is important, but don’t let perfectionism eat you alive.  It’s okay to leave emails that you need to follow up on, it’s okay to let newsletters sit until a designated reading time. 

In my case, I leave appointment confirmations in the inbox until the appointment is over. This gives me quick access during their call, and a front-of-mind reminder to send a follow-up email.  I also use the “pin” feature in Spark for any emails that are in a “waiting” status (think shipping notifications, ongoing email threads waiting for a reply).  

What’s important is that everything has a system and that the system actually works for you.

Related Reading: The Case for Fewer Apps

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