When I’m helping people with time management, email is one of the things people tell me is the biggest time stealer. The technique below is designed to be a ‘quick and dirty’ way to get your inbox clear and allow you to start managing your emails more effectively once it’s done. You need to set aside at least 30 minutes to carry out your inbox purge. Once you are ready to begin, open your inbox and follow the steps below:
Create a new folder called Archive and today’s date. If you wish to, you can use the archive function on your email instead.
Go back either a week, two weeks or a month (this will depend upon how much time you set aside for the task and the number of emails you receive). Select all emails from that point right back to the beginning of your inbox. Move them into the Archive folder you set up earlier (or actually archive them).
The beauty of this technique is that you haven’t deleted your emails – they are still easily accessible and you can search for people or subjects. This is the quick and dirty part as ideally you would file everything, but it’s very unlikely that you have time for that. The relief of just shifting all those emails away really does brighten up your day though!
Your final task is to sort all the emails from the past week (or whatever time period you picked). You will probably need to set up more folders to enable you to effectively file everything and be able to find specific emails when needed. Most people need at least 10 folders and some need 30 or 40.
How you set up the folders depends upon the work you do and the types of emails you receive. You might set up separate folders with each client name or sort into tasks or types of work. You might have folders for receipts, events, learning, policies, newsletters etc. It is a good idea to have a miscellaneous folder as it tends to be the emails we don’t know what to do with that clog up our inboxes. You can always review the Miscellaneous folder periodically to look for any trends that you can use to set up new folders.
That’s it – you’re done! All your emails should be filed or deleted. The only emails in your inbox should be those you are actively working on. I aim to keep my inbox to under ten emails at the end of every day and usually have around four.
My next article will give you some techniques to help you keep your inbox looking streamlined and stop it overwhelming you again. You can also book a Time Management course if you would like help for yourself or for your employees.