Let’s return to last week’s analogy for a moment. You walk to the curb and take empty the 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 e-mail 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 there. Therefore, make a practice of only looking at your e-mail 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 e-mail requires no action on your part other than briefly scan it and hit the delete key. Candidates include advertisements in which you have no interest, jokes, threads from e-mail discussion groups, and FYI courtesy copies. I find it helpful to sort the e-mail by “conversation.” All mail related to a single subject appears together. If the subject is of no interest, I delete the entire thread at one time.

Do It
Some e-mails require only a quick response. I recommend giving that response immediately and then deleting the mail if it is of no further value. What if the response is going to take some time, and possibly some research? In that case, I send a quick response to let the person know I received the message and will be getting back with them. Using Outlook, I drag the e-mail to the Task icon, assign a due date, category, and change the subject line as needed. I then delete the e-mail.

Delegate It
Perhaps someone else really needs to be handling this message. I simply forward the message the appropriate person and delete the e-mail. If I should happen to need it later, I can always go to my “Sent Items” and view what had been forwarded.

Save It
What if the information may be of lasting value? I can save the e-mail by going to the “File” menu and choosing “Save As.” I am able to choose the appropriate place on my computer.

If the e-mail is something I need to save for documentation purposes, I go to the “Memos & Letters” folder I have created in “My Documents.” I name the file with the author’s last name, a hyphen, and a few words descriptive of the subject. I choose to save the message as a text file. After saving, I can then delete the e-mail.

Perhaps the e-mail is a lesson plan. I would then save it with other lesson plans already stored electronically.

“In” Becomes “Empty”
The point is that a decision is made about each piece of e-mail, and that decision is made the first time the message is read. The basic decision is in which category a message falls: Delete, Do, Delegate, or Save. After handling each item, “IN soon becomes “Empty.”