You walk to the curb and take the mail from your mailbox. When you walk away from that mailbox, it is empty! Better yet, it’s not empty just one day; it’s empty at the end of every day. Wouldn’t it be great if only your email inbox operated like the mailbox by the curb?
Decisions, decisions! The key to getting an empty inbox is to simply make decisions about each and every item. Therefore, make a practice of looking at your email only when you have the time and energy to make those decisions. You are going to need to go from top to bottom and make small decisions at each turn.
Delete It. Much of your email requires no action other than to briefly scan it and hit the delete key. Candidates include advertisements in which you have no interest, jokes, threads from email discussion groups, and FYI courtesy copies. You may find it helpful to sort the email by “conversation.” All mail related to a single subject appears together. If the subject is of no interest, delete the entire thread at one time.
Do It. Some emails require only a quick response. Give that response immediately and delete the email if it is of no further value. What if the response is going to take some time, and possibly some research? In that case, send a quick reply to let the person know you received the message and will be getting back soon. If you are an Outlook user, a technique called “drag and drop” allows you to get those types of emails to your task list. Click on the email and drag it to the Task icon, assign a due date, and change the subject line as needed. Now, you can delete the email. If you use a web-based to-do list (I use Remember The Milk), look for a special email address the service assigns to you. Email sent to that address is automatically added to the to-do list. When you receive an email requiring action, forwarding it to that email address puts it on the to-do list, where it belongs.
Schedule It. Some email embeds information on places you need to be, along with supporting information. This type of information belongs on your calendar. On Outlook, “drag and drop” also works on appointments. The newly-created appointment includes the entire body of the email in its note section. Set a date and time, and save. The information is now in the calendar, and you can delete the email.
Delegate It. Perhaps someone else really needs to be handling this message. Forward it to the appropriate person. You can use “drag and drop” as a follow-up. Drag the email to “Tasks,” amend the name of the task, and set a due date for when you want to be reminded about it. If using a service such as Remember The Milk, forward the email to your digital to-do list. Amend the subject line as needed. Add a caret and date, such as “^2/10,” and Remember The Milk assigns a due date of “February 10.”
Save It. Is the email of lasting value? Often, we need to save email for documentation purposes. We want to save it “just in case.” In Outlook, create a new folder in the left-hand pane and name it “Just in Case.” Use the same “drag and drop” technique to move the email from the Inbox to the “Just in Case” folder. If you ever need the email again, sorting that folder by name, subject, or date is easy. Searching the folder electronically is also easy. If using Gmail, the “Archive” icon serves exactly the same function as the “Just in Case” folder. If the content of the email will serve as valuable reference information, drag the email to Outlook’s “Notes” icon. If you do not use Outlook, Evernote is a great, free, service for organizing reference information. A special email, assigned to you, allows forwarding any email to Evernote.
“In” Becomes “Empty.” The point of this message is that a decision must be made about each piece of email, and that the decision is made the first time the message is read. Make your decision: Delete, Do, Schedule, Delegate, or Save. See if these practices allow your, “IN to soon become “Empty.”