What even momentary Email Inbox Zero can teach you

Email inbox zero can bring clarity (courtesy Javier Morales on Flickr Creative Commons)
Clarity (courtesy Javier Morales on Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s a running battle for all of us, trying to quell the email beast.

All the best email management advice I’ve read can be summed up thusly:

  1. Stop the flow from coming in at all. Mercilessly unsubscribe from emails you don’t really want. Use phone calls or in-person meetings for complicated discussions.
  2. Keep unimportant, “nice to read” emails out of your main inbox by setting up filters to automatically route them into their own folders by topic. Read them when you have down time, not when they butt into your inbox on THEIR schedule, not yours.
  3. Do not use your inbox as a To Do list. Open an email, do something with it, and if more work on it is needed, move it into some sort of “work in progress” folder.
  4. Don’t forget to work on the items in the “work in progress” folder. You’ll need to adjust your workflow to get used to not working out of your main inbox.
  5. Batch process. Sit down and handle your emails for a set time, a few times a day, instead of a Pavlovian reaction/response to each one as it comes in, jerking you around hour after hour. Tip – Try to group them by sender,  then march through one by one. It’s easier on the brain to handle similar items/topics all at once.

I do pretty well with suggestions 1 and 2.

I am not making as much progress as I should on 3, 4, or 5, but I continue to try.

The tip about “group by sender, then march through them” has been a lifesaver for me.

Does it really matter if you achieve a relatively clean, empty inbox? A recent mistake showed me that indeed, it is a worthy goal to keep striving for.

Unintended Email Inbox Zero

I took some of my own advice from a Tourism Currents New Year’s productivity post about how to start the year off right, but by mistake I moved not just older emails, but every single one out of my inbox and into a Work In Progress folder.

Whoops.

They were all still there, nothing was lost, but I suddenly beheld the quiet, clean, slightly terrifying bliss of Inbox Zero.

You know the biggest benefit? Clarity.

In the days that followed, as new emails invariably flooded in, I was able to clearly see which ones mattered to me and which ones did not (there was a lot of unsubscribing going on.)

I could machine-gun through them pretty mercilessly, without ever feeling overwhelmed by a giant pile of things to read, reply to, make a decision about, etc.

Alas, since I have not taken my own advice to batch process, the pile has tended to build back up. Now that I’ve seen Nirvana and enjoyed a few days of sparkling email clarity, though, I’m not likely to give up on beating the inbox into submission.

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About Sheila Scarborough

I'm a writer and speaker specializing in tourism, travel and social media. Co-founder of Tourism Currents (training in social media for tourism) and the Perceptive Travel Blog.
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