I ran a survey in a few Facebook Groups this week about the main areas of online clutter, and the results are in. It’s fairly unanimous that Inbox overwhelm and clutter is number 1 on everyone’s list. I’m sharing my thoughts on Inbox Zero, and 7 tips to help manage your Inbox.
So, should you be aiming for Inbox Zero? I’m guessing you just want to be happy about opening your emails. You may be overflowing with emails, or spend much of your time reacting and responding all day and never get to your most important work.
Decluttering and Managing your Inbox
There are really two parts to this, and I’m going to go through both. The first is to clean it out – to create some space for you to set up the systems you need. If your Inbox is full, it’s so overwhelming that nothing proactive gets done, you just wade your way through it day after day. The second part, once you have some breathing space, is to set up some systems to help you manage it on a daily basis.
Let’s be clear on one thing though – Clearing out and managing your Inbox is not something you can fix all at once. It might take you a few days to de-clutter, then a few more days to set up some systems to be able to feel you can stay on top of it. Once you have the structure, supporting it with daily helpful habits will help you get closer to Inbox Zero – if that’s what you want 🙂
Start here to declutter your Inbox, and create the space you need to progress!
- Delete everything you haven’t read for 3 months. If you haven’t read it now, there’s a really good chance you never will.Sort your emails by name so that you can delete in chunks – it’s so much quicker.
- File the emails that you want to keep (see below for filing tips)
Inbox Zero – or Inbox One Screen?
So, once you’ve deleted and filed ALL of your current emails, you will have the elusive Inbox Zero.
Enjoy that feeling – it doesn’t last long! You may be surprised at the sense of space you’ve created by decluttering. Like decluttering your house, the sense of openness and possibility that comes from decluttering is exciting and a joy to experience!
I personally think it’s an unrealistic and just puts unnecessary pressure on. Which is why I’m suggesting Inbox One Screen is more realistic. It’s where you fit all of your Inbox emails in one screen – without scrolling.
In reality, it’s probably between 10-30 emails on the go, depending on the size of your screen.
This is more realistic because there are often emails that you need to deal with tomorrow; emails that act as reminders to follow things up; and email conversations that are ongoing (although these could be filed too!)
The trick to managing Inbox One Screen is time you take now to structure your Inbox, and the maintenance strategies you put in place, so that it doesn’t get overwhelming again.
7 Ways to Manage your Inbox and sustain Inbox One Screen
You can do this in conjunction with decluttering and clearing the space, and unsubscribe to the newsletters that you haven’t read for 3 months. I you haven’t read them after that long you probably never will.
The other option is to unsubscribe to every new newsletter you receive after you’ve cleaned out the clutter. You will know which one’s they are. Unsubscribing to 5 or so a day will really make a big impact in your Inbox.
- Create Folders
You can create folders in your Mail program, to store your emails and file them quickly and easily as you go.
There is another option to forward your emails to file to a program like Evernote, where your other references, research, ideas and conversations can be stored.
This is my preferred option, as I love Evernote and have committed to using it as a one stop shop. My Evernote is my resource guide, where I keep the majority of my information, and I can file using some quick shortcuts straight from my email.Tips for creating folders:
Create Master folders based on the major elements of your business, and then specific sub folders.You really only need to create folders to file the emails you have, and as you receive the various emails you can create more folders as you go – instead of them sitting in your Inbox.For example:
I have a Tech Master File, and subfolders that contain all of the wordpress, plugin, software, purchased subscriptions for programs that I use in my business, but it’s all kept in one place.
- Create Follow up and To Do Folders
If you have emails that you need to come back to, because they can’t be actioned within 3 minutes, you can drag them into a To Do Folder, and then allocate a time each day to action your To Do Emails.
This really allows you to minimise the reactive trap of spending all of your time in your Inbox responding to emails, and struggling to work on important tasks.
You can set a time of 10 & 2 to spend 20-30 mins each in your To Do folder – and it will make you much more task oriented, and less distracted!
You can also set up a follow up folder if you felt the need to.
These two folders will allow you to manage your Inbox much more effectively, and keep it to Inbox One Screen!
- Allocate a set time for email management and responses.
As I mentioned in (3), it’s very easy to get caught spending a lot of time responding immediately to emails, but the danger of that is that your important tasks are not getting the time and attention they need.
Getting into a daily habit of set times for email management will also mean you will be much more focussed when its time to work in your Inbox – especially if you allow 15-20 minutes at a time. Challenge yourself – you might be surprised, especially if you’re aiming for Inbox One Screen.
- Delete notifications
If you have social media programs that send emails telling you that Susan has commented on the post you wrote yesterday, then that’s definitely adding to your Inbox clutter.
- Create rules for email folders to reduce the clutter in your Inbox.
You can set up rules for subscriptions, and notifications (if you don’t want to delete them!) so that the emails go straight into the folders, and bypass your Inbox. You can then check in on them in your time – and delete or read when you’re in the folder. This can be really handy for online shopping newsletters, or reports like notifications from Mailchimp about your list activity.
- Reduce the newsletters you do sign up for by checking if it’s aligned with your current goal.
If it’s not – you don’t need it. There will always be more information. Signing up ‘just in case’ is more a sign of FOMO and bright shiny object syndrome!
Trust that you will be able to access the information you need when you need it.
So, if you manage all of this, you might be close to Inbox Zero, but I truly feel that Inbox One Screen is much more realistic.
If you’re interested in decluttering other areas of your digital world, I’m running a 5 day Online Clutterbugs Challenge. We’ll be decluttering your hard drive, digital photos, social media images and cloud storage.
I’d love you to join us, and I’ll be sharing lots more tips to help you keep you online world clean and clear, and helping you to manage the overwhelming information overload.
Your Next Step
If you want some support to help fast track this process, or help you transition to Dubsado, then can book a free systems audit with me so we can determine where to start, and what you need to get up and running with your workflows and systems.
Aerlie Wildy is a business designer. business coach and mother based in the Adelaide Hills. I specialise in designing and systemising business for growth. You can connect with me on Facebook, join my Chief Executive Entrepreneurs Facebook Group, check out my Youtube Channel or Pin with me on Pinterest.