Easing the Inbox

Does your inbox look like this?

Does your inbox look like this?

Remember the old business advice to never let the same piece of paper cross your desk twice? Meaning that each time you shuffled through the same stack to find something, each time you handled something you didn’t need in an effort to find something you did, was slowing you down and wasting your precious time. Productivity was at its peak when your desk was clear, allowing your undivided attention on the task at hand. Then came the email explosion.

Sure, you’ve been using email for years but in more recent times email has been almost completely replacing the paper forms, reports, summaries, receipts and newsletters. This is great news for those still struggling to count the number of times a piece of paper crosses their desk. But it can be terrible new for those who have yet to master their inbox.

We all want to be in the know and there is a sense of insider-knowledge/learning/expertise/etc that comes with all of that information. Compound that with not really having to touch any of it and it is easy to sign-up, subscribe and otherwise blow our inboxes to smithereens.

The task of categorizing your incoming email can be as daunting as categorizing the stuff in your attic. Does that Nativity set from your Grandmother (that you never put out) go with the keepsakes or holiday décor? Does that email go in a folder based on who it is from or the project it is about? The blurred lines can be overwhelming.

I recently learned a much simpler system from Michael Hyatt in his post Yes, You Can Stay on Top of E-mail. Forget all of those folders, sub-folders and who relates to what. One folder is all you need. Call it “Processed Mail” as Michael does, or any other title that makes it clear that this has crossed your desk once.

Then as you process your inbox you can ‘do, delegate or defer’ (another great system of Mr. Hyatt’s) and then get it off of your desk and out of your inbox. Anything in your inbox that cannot be deleted goes into that “Processed Mail” folder to live until the end of time. If you decide you need something already processed, make use of that very robust search function. You can search by keyword, from, date and so on. There is no need to pre-sort all of the mail you wish to retain; the search function can do it if and when you need something.

Attempting to function with everything you’ve ever been interested in (and tons of things you’ve never cared about) filling your inbox is the same as trying to drive your car with every piece of snail mail you’ve received in the last decade sitting on your dashboard. Your view is obscured. You are missing important signs. You will eventually crash.

Clear your dash, desk and inbox. You will not regret it!