Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Keeping Your Inbox Clean

In the last post I mentioned we'd be discussing filing and archiving strategies.  As I was working on that post, I realized I might be getting ahead of myself - before we get to archiving, let's talk about how to keep your Inbox at zero without going crazy.

Here are some tips I've adopted, adapted, and developed to reduce the effort to get my Inbox to empty:

Treat Inbox Processing as Planned Work:

When I first got my inbox to empty, it became like a game of "whack-a-mole" and I became obsessed with keeping it clear at all times.  That kept me from doing planned work, since I was so busy cleaning my inbox all the time.  If you're on that treadmill, here are a couple of tips to break the addiction:

  • Schedule some uninterrupted time to get your email done each day and try to stick to it. 

    • Be aware of how many messages you typically handle in an hour, and keep an eye on how many you get each day so you don't under-schedule this block of time.  One morning, and one late afternoon block might work best - it's all up to you.

  • Turn off your email alerts and "dings" so you don't get lured by email's siren song when you should be doing something else.  Emergency scanning is OK, but…

  • Remember the two minute rule - and try to stick to it tightly for at least 3 weeks to see if you can develop a habit.

    • Gadget Alert: For me, using the GTD add-in for Outlook has been a big factor in being able to stick to the two-minute rule - it makes it easy for me to quickly file, delegate, and defer items that would take more than two minutes to get done.

Preventive Measures:  Heading 'em off at the pass

One of the most effective ways to reduce clutter in your email inbox is to keep messages from showing up there in the first place.  Here are some ideas:

  • Use rules and tools to autofile messages

    • For example, I have a newsletter rule that moves a daily report I receive to a reference folder automatically

    • Products like ClearContext provide advanced filing aids to help you organize your email with less effort

  • Unsubscribe from newsletters and alerts you receive but don't really read.

    • When in doubt, create a rule to autofile these to a Newsletter folder, perhaps with topic-specific subfolders for each newsletter.

  • Switch to RSS vs. email distribution wherever you can, so you don't mingle reading material and actionable emails.

    • Use a reader than can archive things for offline perusal if you travel a lot - I swear by SharpReader.

    • If you're concerned you'll forget to go read them, either decide they weren't important after all or set up a periodic tickler to remind you.

  • Use an anti-spam product.

    • I'm currently using Qurb, but have had success in the past with IHateSpam, CloudMark, and other products.

    • For corporate spam blocking, consider services from companies like FrontBridge, MessageLabs, or similar technologies that filter out spam before it even gets to your mail server.

What about you - any useful tips to share? Drop me a line or leave a comment