We've all been there, you're just living your life when suddenly you realize that your inbox is completely out of control. You try to stay on top of it but the e-mails just keep piling on. You look at e-mails briefly and then mark ones that take thought to reply to as unread. You feel like you'll never get out from under this deluge. Never fear, there is a way to tame the beast. However, it will involve some habit changes, and the incorporation of new daily practices. Here are a few tips for keeping your life at inbox zero.
1. Declare e-mail bankruptcy.
If your inbox is thousands and thousands of e-mails deep, we're really sorry but you're probably not going to win. Here's what you need to do, get in that inbox and archive anything that's more than a month old. Then, start sifting your way through the e-mails that were sent your way in the last 30 days. Anything that's older than 30 days that someone hasn't followed up on, is probably too old to actually deal with now.
2. Ruthlessly unsubscribe.
You are probably on a whole world of mailing lists and newsletters that you really don't need to be a part of. Get off of those. Unsubscribe! Do it now! If you plot the hours in your day by the automated newsletters that come, and you systematically delete, it's time to get those out of your inbox for good. Go ahead, you don't need the weekly newsletter from that paper goods store you visited one time three summers ago.
3. Answer your e-mails offline.
Answering e-mails online can quickly devolve into a game of e-mail hockey, don't let that happen. You'll just be lobbing answers back and forth until the cows come home. Instead, do your e-mails while on airplane mode. This way, once you're back online all the e-mails will be sent from your outbox in one beautiful blast. And you won't go down a rabbit hole of back and forth.
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4. Touch e-mails once.
Open an e-mail once and only once. Decide what to do with it in that moment — archive it, forward it, reply to it, delete it. If you save something as unread it will likely just languish in your inbox. This is how you get to 7 billion unanswered e-mails in a very short amount of time.
5. Don't answer e-mails all day long.
Designated e-mail times are your friend. Nights devoted to full e-mail catch-up are also your friend. Answering e-mails all day long is definitely not. Find a schedule that works for you and stick to it. Maybe that means checking e-mails three times a day. Maybe that means one night a week making sure you get to inbox zero. Whatever it is, a schedule will always help to keep things online in line.