Inbox Zero is possible

‘I’ve got 800 emails in my Inbox!’ one lady said to me at a meeting recently. ‘It makes anxious every time I have to open it. Can you help?’

‘Yes’ I said, ‘I can help!’ But this lady is not alone in her inbox anxiety.  One thing that seems to come up regularly as a cause of stress  is the inbox. Achieving Inbox Zero can warrant its own status update on social media and is the Holy Grail for many busy small business owners! Over the next few weeks I am going to talk about how to improve your relationship with your inbox. There are a range of really fantastic tools that can help you do this but to start with we need to look at how you are going to sort your emails as they come in.

Ideally, you should be aiming to open an email once and then never again (I appreciate this is not always going to happen but it is the aim). Think how much time that alone could save you! In order to achieve this you need a simple system for dealing with each type of email, preferably in defined blocks of time each day. So in my opinion there are only  5 types of email (yes really!) You might end up with more than 5 and that is fine, whatever works for you but the key is to have a simple system that allows you to quickly work out what type of email you are dealing with and therefore what to do with it.

In order to make this method work for you, I you need a few folders set up – firstly an ARCHIVE folder (this could be several folders if you like to break things down further but a simple ARCHIVE folder can work fine), secondly a READ LATER folder, thirdly a DONE Folder, and lastly an TO DO folder. Remember that search functions in email are really powerful now so you don’t have to have everything filed perfectly to be able to find it again, it is often quicker just to type the name of the person who sent it into your search tool and bingo! All the emails related to them are shown.

When it is time to carry out your email management, remember that your focus should be on sorting the emails into their different types. Try to resist the urge to open and close them, procrastinate or stop before your allotted time is up. As you open each email you need to sort it into one of the 5 types as follows:

ARCHIVE IT

This is an email that you need to keep for reference but do not need to take any further action on. Typically this would be receipts, account details, order confirmations, replies to emails that do not need responses, promotional offers that you may take up and anything you can imagine you may need to look at again at some point. Open the email, scan it and move it straight to the Archive folder.

BIN IT

These are nice and easy, delete anything that is junk, special offers you aren’t interested in. One quick point, if it something that you get regularly and never read then take a second and unsubscribe. It will save you time in the long term.

READ IT LATER

These are all the emails with potentially useful information such as newsletters and blogs that you have subscribed to. If you are anything like me you sign up to all sorts of mailing lists and really enjoy reading many of the emails but going through them piecemeal as they arrive in your inbox is distracting and it is all too easy to lose half an hour of precious time. Instead, create a READ IT LATER folder and gather all these gems together, block out some time in your diary twice a week and go through and read things. And then delete them! Or store them in Pocket with tags so you can find them again.

DO IT!

Now we are left with emails that need you to take some action. Ask yourself ‘Is this something I can do in 5 minutes or less?’ If the answer is yes then get on and do it. Don’t procrastinate, just answer it now and then move the email to the DONE folder (or whatever folder you use for that type of email).

TO DO IT!

If your email is not one of the 4 above then you are left with one of the ‘big’ emails… the fat juicy ones that can’t be answered in 5 minutes. They need to be moved out of the Inbox and onto your TO DO list that lets you prioritise them against all the competing tasks that you have in your business, not just your emails. Just because a task is the most urgent thing in your inbox does not mean it is the most important thing for your business. So, create your TO DO list somewhere outside of your inbox and consider that task against all the things you need to do that day. Finally move the email to the TO DO folder.

So there you have it… 5 types of email that you can quickly sort through to get your Inbox emptied. As your business grows then outsourcing your Inbox management to a VA is a great first step to taking on some help, having a clear set of rules for them to work to makes it much easier to get this to work well so start building your rules for email management now so you are ready to grow!

Next week I will be letting you know about how your email system can do some of this work for you… have a great weekend!

Alice

PS If you know someone who might like to know these tips please feel free to share.

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