The most stressful noise in the world is not, in fact, the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard, even though I cringed just typing it. It’s the ding of your e-mail notifications.
According to psychologists, the steady stream of emails filling up your inbox is a “toxic source of stress.” The best thing you can do to eliminate this stress is to turn off your email notifications.
The second best thing you can do is commit to an “inbox zero” approach to e-mails. For some of you, the last sentence was at best laughable and at worst stress-inducing. Even if we could find a virtual backhoe to dig us out of the bottomless inbox pit, how can we avoid getting buried by tomorrow morning’s mudslide?
Achieving inbox zero can actually save hours each week and is more about the way you view your emails than stressing yourself out with having to maintain a pristine inbox.
Step #1: Repeat “My inbox is not my to-do list” 3x each morning.
Just kidding. But ditching the habit of using your inbox as your to-do list is the only way to achieve inbox zero plus it has all sorts of cool side effects: (1) empowers you to prioritize tasks (2) ensures you never accidently delete forever that e-mail with super important information ever again (3) breaks you free from the tyranny of the urgent
Step #2: Create 3 folders in your inbox
Name one “Read”, one “Answer”, and one “Hold”.
Step #3: Start implementing the 2 minute rule
When you’re sorting through e-mails, use the 2 minute rule to determine what to do with each e-mail. If it takes:
- Less than 2 minutes to read and respond to the e-mail, do that immediately and then delete the e-mail
- More than 2 minutes to respond to the e-mail, put it in the “answer” folder
- More than 2 minutes to read the email, put it in the “read” folder
- More than 2 minutes to retrieve information needed to deal with the e-mail, request that information or add it to your to-do list and then put the email in the “hold” folder
Step #4: Master that right-click to save move
Did you know you can save e-mail files? If an email has information in it that you’d like to keep, right click and hit “save as” to save it into your file system. This insures that the information is cozy and safe while leaving your inbox clear.
Step #5: Sort through all other folders using the 2-minute rule and then delete them. Do the same to your inbox.
Don’t worry, they won’t be gone forever. See next step.
Step #5: Set up an auto-archive system for your deleted & sent folders
Every e-mail server under “settings” should allow you to set up an archive schedule. Personally, I prefer archiving items that are over 60 days old.
Step #6: Rinse and repeat
Set up times each day when you’ll be answering your e-mail. Go through your inbox with the 2-minute rule in Step #3 and then once or twice a day, go through read and answer the emails in your “read”, “answer”, and “hold” folders.
If you feel lost without your inbox as your to-do list, I’d highly one of these to-do list and project management apps that will keep all of your to-dos in one place and keep them from getting buried in your inbox.
But what happens to all those deleted emails? What if I need to go back and look at one?
Here’s the beauty of achieving inbox zero–you still can! Remember, your deleted and sent e-mails are getting backed up automatically into your archive folder so they are never more than a few clicks away. If you need a recently deleted email, simply search for the email in your deleted folder with the name of who sent it and a keyword. This might sound scary, but you’re already used to using the same search techniques in your inbox. Your e-mails are just as safe in your deleted folder, and also wonderfully out of sight and out of mind.
Bonus Tip: It takes almost the same amount of time to unsubscribe as it does to delete an email. If you’re never going to read those promotional emails, unsubscribe and over time, your daily email sorting will get way easier.
Give yourself grace. I don’t always finish the day with a crystal clear inbox and neither will you. The journey to inbox zero has changed my perspective towards emails and loosened their chains on my stress levels.