If you are like me, you may struggle with managing the amount of e-mail you receive. I conducted an online investigation of best practices. Below is a summary of my key findings:
1. First Principle: Your inbox should be completely empty
- Imagine if your e-mail were actual pieces of paper. In front of me I would have a stack of urgent documents, doodles, research reports, and paper invitations that require my RSVP all jumbled up in a pile. It’s incredibly disorganized and that’s what I look at every morning when I fire up Outlook/gmail. Frankly I don’t think it’s good for my mental health, because I always have a nagging feeling that I need to reply to something.
2. When you read an e-mail, you should immediately do 1 of 3 things:
- Archive or Delete It: If you aren’t going to respond or it’s FYI, clear the clutter and clear your mind. This is the best option.
- Respond: If you can reply in full in 60-120 seconds, do it now. Then archive or delete.
- Flag/Star for Follow Up: If it takes longer than 2 minutes, extended thought or a conversation with someone else, flag it for later.
Later we you have time to “do e-mail” tackle your Flagged folder. Perhaps, if you want, create a two-tier flagging system to distinguish high priority follow-ups from less pressing ones.
Living with “inbox zero”, both at work and at home, is a zen experience. I encourage you to empty your inbox immediately. For more reading, see “How I Declared E-Mail Bankruptcy, and Discovered the Bliss of an Empty Inbox”.