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Declutter Your Inbox

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You need to declutter your inbox again? Why is it that we have trouble keeping our email accounts clean and we need to constantly set aside time to declutter our inboxes?

Your First Email Account

Do you remember when you first started using email? I’ve been using email since the 90s and I remember when I signed up for mailing lists JUST so I would actually have email to read when I checked it. I’d check it every day hoping for some email to read and respond to. I really could have checked once a week and gotten by. Now I check more than once a day and I still can’t keep up! How did we get to this point?

Email Marketing is the cause of most of our inbox woes. Businesses have realized that email marketing can be very effective and so more and more businesses have newsletters, many of which you sign up for as a second thought when you enter a giveaway or sign up for a freebie. Unfortunately if you don’t remember to cull everything you sign up for, it gets out of hand and you end up reading nothing.

Inbox Analysis

Think about the emails you get each day, what types of emails do you get? Personal emails? Business emails? Newsletters? Notifications? Are most of the emails you get emails that you read? Or do most of them end up deleted or abandoned unread? Be realistic here. How many things have you signed up for either inadvertently or on purpose but that you just don’t have much interest in, or time to read yet you are still subscribed? If you get email notifications, are they helpful? If you are on the site daily, do you really need an email notification? Are your personal and business emails getting lost in your inbox?

Which System is Right For You?

There are different email systems out there designed to help you get a grip on your email and NOT get to the point you probably are now if you are reading this post. They are like self-help books though, reading about the systems and ideas will not solve the problem. You have to implement it and use it to see change. This is easier said than done. Your time is precious and you don’t want to implement a system only to find it doens’t work for you.

Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero was conceived thanks to Merlin Mann. The idea is that when you sit down to deal with your email, you process your inbox until either it’s empty or at least there is nothing in it left to be done. You respond to emails that need replies, archive important emails, add some to your calendar or otherwise process them.

Next Action

This system was first introduced to me in the Personal Productivity Secrets book by Maura Thomas. (aff link) The idea is that you process the emails as they come into your inbox just like the above system. Reply and/or delete most of them, archive some but the ones that require you to do something go into a next action folder. When you sit down to do work, you go to your next action folder and work from that. An example would be an email with instructions for a blog post you need to work on. You don’t need to reply to it, at least not right now. You can’t just delete it. Perhaps you can’t just do the task right now as it will take awhile. So you put it in that folder and when you have time, you sit down to work on it.

This system requires discipline. It’s a great idea in theory (and I LOVE that book) but I found that I just added everything to my Next Action folder and when I sat down to do work, I never looked at the folder unless I had to and I never remembered to delete the emails when I was done with them. Next action should only be used for emails related to work you have to do before you can delete or reply to the emails. Don’t add emails you haven’t replied to there because you have to think or research something first before replying. You want as little in that folder as possible and you must do the work and cull it regularly.

The book tells you that if the action needed will take less than 2 minutes, just do it now. Only put in the Next Action folder those tasks that will take longer and you can’t do it right now.

Message Rules/Separate Folders

In this basic idea, you think about the types of emails you receive and create separate folders for those types of emails. Then you create message rules in your email program so when new email comes in, it’s automatically filtered into the appropriate folder. The idea is when you sit down to your email, you can go through each folder, or the ones that are important to you right now, and only deal with those emails. For example you might go through your business folder daily but your newsletter folder weekly.

This system can be good if you don’t get too many different types of emails and don’t get more than 50 emails a day. You have to be able to check at least some of the folders daily. Separate folders won’t help if they are all filled with hundreds of emails because you get too many or don’t check often enough. You also have to make sure you properly deal with the emails and don’t let them sit around after you’ve read or replied to them.

Whatever system you decide to go with, the trick is to stick to it! Good Luck!

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