There is something elusive and alluring about achieving the state of inbox zero (nothing in your email). Something minimalists would find as the perfect state of the email inbox - a blank white box. Most of us that have worked with email from the early days until now may think it's a state that can not be achieved and yet we seek it. We were trained by early email programs to create folders, keep every single email visible in some form because you might need it, or to create systems to keep it all straight.
I'm here to tell you that you are released from complicated email filing systems thanks to upgrades in technology that we weren't really taking advantage of because we were trained in early days when the tech just wasn't as good. Because email now has search and threading you really don't need a complicated system for filing. I know. Revolutionary thinking.
More people complain of overwhelm in the workplace because of email than any other thing. If you do a Google search of "email overwhelm" 14,100,00 entries come up. The problem is more exasperating than too many meetings, long hours or difficult coworkers. We are inundated with hundreds of emails a day and are drowning in it. Most of us use email as a to-do system and are reacting to what is happening in our inbox and letting that guide our workday instead of planning out our time most effectively. Some might even know or feel like they are wasting time by constantly "managing" their email and not feeling at all productive.
What can we do about overflowing inboxes to get back our lives and feel a little zen at the same time?
Use Unroll.me - This tool "rolls up" email that you receive from retailers, newsletters from organizations and anything that you might like to have, but don't need to read regularly. It sends it to you in a neat little newsletter once a day and you can scroll through it to see if there is anything that you are interested in, click it and read it then. Bonus Tip: Twice a year go through your Unroll.me email lists and delete what you aren't reading anymore. They make that process really easy and you can further cull what isn't necessary for your inbox.
Set up some VIP's - I have a few people I receive email from that I want to see their email at the top of my inbox and right away. I have a rule set up in my email that stars those emails. Bonus Tip: Don't have more than 10 of these. VIP's are really special.
Set up SPAM rules - Set up a rule that moves some email directly into the trash. We all have some email from people that we can't unsubscribe from or reject outright because of social or political reasons. You know, the email you get from your left or right leaning aunt that has the meme's copied into it that makes your blood boil. She isn't going to stop sending them, but you don't need to read them. She never sends anything important and never will. Just set up a rule that marks her email as read and gets plopped into the trash. Your blood never has to boil again. Ahhh... a little zen.
The Sundown Rule - Deal with as much as you can as quickly as you can in your email. If an email has a request or can be accomplished in just a few minutes - just send the response before you shut down your email for the day.
Flag It - If an email needs to be dealt with, but it is a little longer project flag it. If there is an email that you need to have as a resource flag that, too. These will drop them into a folder automatically - giving them more important than anything else. Be judicious in this because not everything is important. Flag your airline itinerary, but don't flag the shipping information for the shipment of dog treats you ordered. This is an opportunity to be quickly critical of what really is important in your life.
Archive - Here is where the magic happens - archive. The archive isn't deleting your email (which I totally think you should do to most email). It is putting it in one big folder that isn't your inbox. It is 100% searchable. After you have done a task in your email - archive it. After you have read the information and no action is required - archive it.
But what about finding an email. Here's the thing, it is all searchable. You can search using the sender's name, email, the subject matter, the attachments, the dates sent, the body of the email. You may have to weed through a few that are the same or similar, but if the email has pertinent information anywhere inside the email you will find it. I can find everything in seconds - even email that is years old.
Achieving Zen Master Status - Instead of having it all in my inbox stressing me out with the visual and project clutter, I am presented with a fresh start each morning. I can plan my tasks from the flagged email and I can deal with what is fresh each day. Just seeing the empty inbox is a feeling of accomplishment which seems kind of silly, but for years brought anxiety to my work day. Nothing has been lost and I can feel a sense of peace that I can find what I'm looking for and achieve a clutter free space in my digital life. Go, grasshopper, use technology to master your inbox.