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Ten Tools for Pruning Your Inbox
Mark Hurst, author of Bit Literacy, a book about conquering e-mail overload, offers this imperative: “Empty the inbox at least once a day.” Hurst makes a convincing case for zero sum e-mail: a cluttered e-mail inbox is inefficient. It takes longer to find a message. It’s hard to remember which e-mails say what and whether the e-mail has been answered. Important e-mails get overlooked or lost. But worst of all, from my point of view, a bulging inbox makes me feel out-of-control.
A few times I’ve achieved an empty inbox. It was liberating. But it didn’t take long for the inbox to fill up. Here are some strategies I’ve adopted to prune my e-mail.
- Use the two-minute rule. If it takes two minutes or less, do it immediately (borrowed from Hurst).
- Decide on an e-mail strategy. Review messages as they come in, or set aside specific times to read and answer e-mail.
- Segregate e-mails. Use a different e-mail address to filter incoming emails. For example, I use one address for essentials—work-related e-mail and e-mail from friends. I’ve relegated nonessential e-mail—promotions, subscriptions—to a different address. That lets me read and act on the essential e-mail without being distracted by the nonessential.
- Use Rules to organize your e-mail. Another strategy is to create different e-mail folders and use rules to sort incoming mail automatically. For example, you can create a rule that e-mail from certain addresses goes to a Subscription folder. Or any e-mail with joke in the subject line goes to the Not Important folder or is automatically deleted.
- Archive old mail. Set up e-mail folders to store messages you’ve acted on or need no action. Or use your e-mail application’s archive function to clear old mail from your inbox.
- Delete, delete, delete. Set a time limit for reading nonessential e-mail. If you don’t get to the newsletter or blog post within that time, delete it. Chances are if it stays unread that long, you’ll never read it.
- Establish your own internal response policy. For example, “I will respond to time-sensitive e-mail immediately, to work-related e-mail within 24 hours, and to e-mail from friends within 2 days.” Then stick to your policy!
- Unsubscribe. Every time I start a new project, I subscribe to newsletters and blogs on the topic. Long after the project is finished, the e-mails are still clogging my inbox. Unsubscribe from information that no longer interests you.
- Know when to end an e-mail exchange. It’s a good idea to acknowledge important e-mail and send a thank you. But one response is usually enough. No need to keep the thread going. (Thanks for the great lunch. . . I enjoyed it, too. . . Let’s do it again. . . Yes!)
- Use the phone. Are you having difficulty setting up a meeting? Have you been unable to resolve an issue after several exchanges? Pick up the phone and talk to the person, rather than prolonging the time-consuming and unproductive thread.
Do you have tips or strategies you’ve used to slim down your inbox? Please post them as comments. I’ll compile your suggestions in a new post.
- To find out how to use rules, see Tips for Managing Your E-mail Rules. This is about Micrsoft Outlook, but the strategies apply to any e-mail program.
- For an interesting and provocative take on managing digital information, including e-mail and photos, read Mark Hurst’s Bit Literacy.
Categories: E-Mail & Messaging
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