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8 Tips to help you reach Inbox Zero
Wednesday, June 17, 2015 (All day)

I recently presented a workshop on “Inbox Zero” for a group of entrepreneurs. To prepare, I rehearsed my presentation with the fellow who recruited me for this workshop. He later used my tips to clean out his own inbox.

We ended up working his experience into the workshop introduction: as he went through his inbox, he found a couple of emails about a month old asking about his services.

Did you just recoil at reading that? Has that ever happened to you?

Something similar has happened to me. That’s why I no longer keep information in my email inbox. It’s a great place to triage messages, but it’s a lousy place to store the information they contain.

I’ve developed habits that minimize the time I spend dealing with email, and I’ve assembled them in this handy checklist, from easiest to most sophisticated. Use this list next time you tackle your inbox. (Note: Sometimes two or more of these habits apply to a message.)

1. Mark and delete unwanted email

I said I’d start from the easiest tip, right?

Unwanted email comes in several forms. Have you subscribed to emails that you don’t have time to read? Unsubscribe. Have an issue with spam? Mark it appropriately so it doesn’t clog your inbox. Unsure if an email is spam? Check it carefully.

And check your spam boxes, on your computer and in web-based email clients, for false positives.

2. File important email

Email software enables people to create folders to organize messages. Whether email conversations deal with a client project, tax preparation or a child’s activities, putting them in their own space helps you easily piece together those conversations at a later date.

3. The two-minute task
If your partner emails you asking about preparations for the weekend, you know the answer and it’s short, just email that answer back. Once you’re done with the email, file or delete it. That’s one less email in your inbox.

4. Record appointments in your calendar

Client X emails you, wanting to speak about a project. Schedule that phone call in your calendar and tell your client you’ve booked the call.

Once you’re done with the calendar information, file or delete the email. That’s one less email in your inbox.

You know how to get in touch with the client because you…

5. Record contact information in your contacts application

Searching for a phone number in the email signature of a message takes more time than it does to look it up in my contacts app. So if you must contact a person again, copy contact information from the email signature into your contacts app.

Once you’re done with the contact information, file or delete the email. That’s one less email in your inbox.

You’re prepared for the call and the work because you…

6. Record tasks in a to-do list

Clients assign work via email. When they do, you can break the work into tasks and record them in your to-do list (with the original email attached to provide context).
Once you’re done with the task information, file or delete the email. That’s one less email in your inbox. (You might sense a pattern developing here…)

7. Create simple filing rules for email

For instance, when a project-related email arrives, you can have your email software file it in the folder you created for that project. You can do this using email rules to put the emails where you know they need to go.

Tip: While you clean out your inbox, you can create rules to handle specific types of email. After you create your first rule, select all the messages in your inbox, right-click in the inbox and choose “Apply Rules.” Did any other messages move out of the inbox and into the folder you designated with your rule?

8. File sent items

My Sent Items folder is almost as important as my inbox. If I let Sent Items get out of hand, it becomes a morass of information, both important and not.

Once you set up your project filing rules, you can save time by manually running rules in Sent Items. Just select all the messages in the Sent Items folder, right-click in the folder and choose “Apply Rules.”

Are you an Inbox Zero devote? What habits do you maintain to keep your important email sorted? Share your tips in the comments below.

Technology copywriter, journalist, business writer and technical writer Luigi Benetton helps technology businesses and periodical editors explain sophisticated technology in ways that their business audiences understand.

- Luigi Benetton

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