The recipe for staying on top of your email is to be ruthless about what you send and receive, and to focus on how you process your inbox. Here are thirteen practices that may help you be in command of your inbox.
- Turn off all new email notifications.
- Limit the number of times you access your email.
- Avoid checking your email during the first hour of the day. Work on something that requires your energy and focus.
- Don’t have your email software opened … keep it closed until it’s time to “do” email.
- When you “do” email, follow the “Process to Zero” technique. Merlin Mann, the productivity guru who popularized this technique, emphasized, “Never check your email without processing to zero.” Handle every email just once, and take one of these actions: delete or archive, delegate, respond, or defer.
- If you can process an incoming email in a minute or two, act on that email immediately, using the Two-Minute “Do-it-now” Rule.
- For any email that requires inputs or deliberation, start a reply email, and file it in the “Drafts” folder of your email software. Set aside a block of time to crank though all such draft emails.
- Tell people with whom you communicate the most that you intend to check your email intermittently. Encourage them to telephone or drop by if they need a quick response.
- If you’ve been dreading a large backlog of email, consider deleting everything that’s over three weeks old. If the contents of any of those emails were of any consequence, somebody would have appraised you of their substance.
- Reduce the number of emails you send. Decrease the number of people you carbon-copy on emails. Consider meetings or telephone calls for more effective interaction.
- Curb the number of email messages you receive. Ask to be removed from irrelevant newsgroups, and unsubscribe from marketing emails. Learn how to use the “filter” feature on your email software.
- Don’t get sucked into replying to every email. Reply only to those that are of relevant to your priorities. Let other communicators follow up with you if they need a reply.
- Empty your inbox by the end of the day and process every message.
Idea for Impact: Don’t let an overflowing inbox be a big distraction (read my article on the Zeigarnik Effect.)