I wrote in my previous article how Inbox is a not just a messaging system but a task management system and how it reflects your mind. A cluttered Inbox is similar to a cluttered desk – increases stress, reduces productivity and focus, and makes you lose track of important To-dos.
How do you keep your Inbox in check then? Here are some tips:
Archive and Delete:
Most email systems today support these two actions. The 20th century was a century of folders. The super-organized in the 20th century made folders for everything. Folders inside folders and then some more folders. Every mail was then put into one of these. This was the time when search was weak.
The 20th century was a century of folders. Now, with search being instant and comprehensive, you can lay those folders to rest.
Now, with search being instant and comprehensive, you can lay those folders to rest. Hence, there are only 2 destinations of an email once you have dealt with it– either it’s a keeper or not. If its not, press “Delete”, if it is, press “Archive”. When you need to search for an old mail, just search using attributes like “date”, “sender”, text etc. If even that does not satisfy you, you can sometimes put tags – though I don’t do it. Hence, my folder tree looks something like this:
- Sent Items
- All Items
I am still trying to get rid of “Sent Items”, since those mails are already there in Archive. The folder does not serve any other purpose other than pre-historic.
Block spam aggressively:
I get a lot of SPAM, as I am sure you do. It takes an extra few seconds to “Mark Spam” but I do very consistently. This reduces significant burden on your devices as well which do not have to download SPAM. BTW, do peek into your SPAM box every now and then – I do it roughly once a week to make sure something important didn’t end up there. In my case, I notice 1-2 non-SPAM mails there every few months. Even if I missed it, I think I would be okay. If it were important, they would find other ways to reach me.
Deal with “To” and “CC”:
A large % of non-spam emails sent to you are sent “CC” meaning FYI or “For your information”. The best course of action for these is to browse through them quickly and immediately Delete or Archive. Rarely, you will need to put a comment on them, which you can immediately. The mails “To” you are the ones that usually need action from you. Some of these are very transactional – like “Can we meet next week?” or “Can you please send me those links” etc. These only need a few minutes to address. Address them immediately, ideally the first time you have read this mail and then Archive or Delete. The cost of coming back to these transactional mails is high – you want to tick them off asap. No point in coming back and giving them mind share again. The second set of “To” mails is one which requires real work – for example I had an email to write this very article. This is real work. Keep them in your Inbox if it’s something you need to do in a few days and it will become your tasks list for the week. If it’s long running like – “Let’s find ways to improve product quality”, then it’s better to put them on your calendar and “Archive” them.
So here comes the concept of using a calendar and this discussion can not be complete till we address that. So we will take that in the next article. For the time being, if you follow the above tips, my sense is your Inbox will have a handful of tasks that you need to keep track of this week, your collaborators will be happier and you will lead a better, healthier, more productive and a happier life.