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11 tips for keeping your inbox clean.

We’ve all been there, all of a sudden your once empty inbox is now filling up like nobody’s business and the stuff just keeps piling on top of you.

I’ve spoken previously about my GTD email setup and how I organise my sent emails but sometimes it’s all too easy to fall off the bandwagon. Although I sometimes find that having an empty inbox is sometimes a bit freaky (I feel like I have no friends, okay?!) when it’s filling up rapidly that can be just as disheartening.

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Firstly, I have to admit that I’m the worlds-worst person at sorting out my personal email inbox, mainly because I never use it (I just quickly reply to the emails I want to and then I’m off mate – no computery stuff for me at home if I can avoid it thank-you-very-much!) but I’m so uptight about my work inbox it’s not funny (there’s currently one email in there at the moment waiting for a reply which I’ll do and then file).

So, how can we reach a “Mind Like Water” state with our overflowing inbox? Whilst these tips won’t be new to everyone, sometimes it’s just nice to have a reminder, isn’t it? So, here we go!

  1. Learn to fileCreate a separate folder for each customer/supplier/subject that you deal with. It’s quicker to find an email if you’re looking in one place!
  2. Keep your sent files organised: At some point you’ll need to prove that you really did send Jeff in marketing that email. File them in a “Sent” folder under the appropriate main Customer and watch Jeff squirm!
  3. Delete the tat: Someone brought cake in for their birthday? Whoopy-flipping-do, bin it!
  4. Don’t use emails for reminders: I know some people advocate sending yourself an email as a reminder but it’s better of in your Next-Actions/Project list otherwise it’ll haunt you and you’ll feel rubbish about not doing anything about it
  5. Archive Often: If a project isn’t active then file it away somewhere. There’s no point cluttering up your inbox with stuff you’re not working on, especially as it may draw attention away from something you’re actually supposed to be working on. I’ve got a folder called “Archive” which I move all of my inactive projects into. I can quickly drag them out when something needs working on and still search them for any reference material I may need.
  6. Remember the 2 minute rule: If it can be replied to or actioned within 2 minutes then just do it and bin it. It’s amazing how many emails can be sorted in such a short amount of time.
  7. Turn off the “Dings”: Having an alert come up every time an email hits your inbox is a real distraction and will make you loose focus from what you’re currently working on. Turn off the alerts and only check your email every hour or so.
  8. Learn when to reply: I know it’s polite, but having an inbox full of emails that just say “Thanks” is annoying. Sometimes you don’t have to send a reply and if you stop doing it so will others (probably because they’ll think you’re a miserable git cheeky tongue)
  9. Remember what your inbox is for: Your inbox is only a temporary storage space, it’s not meant to keep every email you’ve ever received. Refer to point one and file, file, file!
  10. Have a weekly purge: We’re all busy so sometimes our inbox will fill up from time-to-time. Sometime’s it’s because you’ve been out of the office, others because you’ve been stuck in meetings. Don’t feel too bad about it, just set aside some time once a week to go through your inbox and file/delete/action as appropriate.
  11. Learn to use labels and flags: Most email programs allow you to label or flag emails for various purposes (such as “Action”, “Waiting for” etc.). Flag an email so you can easily find it later and move it out of your inbox. You can read more about Flagging emails in outlook here and Labels in Thunderbird here

How do you organise your inboxes? Are you pilers or filers?

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