What you are looking at is my inbox from work. Over the course of last year, I received over 11,000 emails at work and on most days, I start with zero emails in my inbox. As the Sr. Training Coordinator for a 700+ employee company, it is crucial to stay on top of my inbox & communicate in timely manner. As such I rely on several techniques ranging from Inbox Zero to GTD, to keep my inbox organized and cleaned out as much as possible.
Here’s how I do it:
- Keep, Trash or Archive – Think of every email as actionable. If I am going to work on it or need to respond to it, I keep it. If it is not relevant to me or requires no action, then I throw it away. If I need it for future reference (i.e. receipts), I archive it.
- Two Minute Rule – If I can respond to or take care of the email within 2 minutes, then I go ahead and take care of it. If not, then I move the item out the Inbox into a designated folder.
- Folder Structure – You will notice that I have very few folders in my inbox. This is where the law of diminishing returns comes into play. Many of us create folders for every item under sun with the intention of being organized. The problem is that after a handful of folders, we forget where we put items or we run into situations where an email can actually go into two different folders. Keep your folder structure simple. Here’s mine:
Follow Up – any emails that I am waiting on a response. This allows me to quickly see who I need to touch base with again.
Head Count & Training – these are special project folders created because I work in HR and need to reference them regularly. You might have a couple of project folders, but not too many. Sometimes I have a temporary project I am working on and I create a folder for it. When the project is over, I move it out.
Later – these are items that I am working on next week and beyond.
Now – these are items I am working on this week. I quickly see what I have on my plate at any given time. Furthermore, I can focus, because I am only responsible for the items in this folder.
Reference – There is one folder you can not see in the screenshot because I have it archived. I keep all my receipts & account information in a reference folder. These are items that I have no action associated with them, but I might need to refer back to later on.
- Time Management – I do not keep my inbox open all the time. When I am working on a project, I only check or respond to email every two hours. This allows me to stay focused on my current job. If someone needs me, they can call or instant message me.
What do you do if you need to look up a past email?
My trash can is searchable (at least in Outlook). So if it is an email that I need to go back and find, 9 times out of 10 I can find it. After 6 months, items are permanently deleted unless I am required to save them for HR purposes. This is set up automatically through my company’s default archive settings. You can also set up your own archive settings depending on the software you are using.
What do you do to keep you inbox clean?