Simple Steps to Getting and Keeping a Clear Inbox
While not everyone can see our inbox like they can see our desk, it is just as important to keep our inbox clean and organized on a daily basis. Making this a priority keeps us from missing information, helps us answer emails promptly and keeps our anxiety level down because we know we have actually addressed everything that has come across our virtual desk for the day. It also keeps that obnoxious red bubble on our phone from showing up. I hate that thing, seriously. (For the record, this is a picture one of my friend’s sent me to make my eye twitch, I’m not sure if my bubble has ever even seen double digits!)
As I stated in my post “There’s no stress in a clean desk” I believe that there are 3 steps that you must follow each day to keep an organized work area. When I say “clean” I mean that at the end of every day, these three areas are cleared, double checked, and ready for the next day. These areas are your desk, your to-do list and your inbox. Today, we’ll tackle step 2 of 3, your inbox.
Getting and keeping your inbox clean is actually very similar to the steps to cleaning your desks – it requires lots of folders! Let’s get started.
How to get your inbox clear the FIRST time:
- This process will depend on how many emails are sitting in your inbox right now. This might take a day of staring at the computer or it might take several days of working through emails while watching tv after the kids are in bed. However, you do it, MAKE A PLAN. Set a deadline for yourself, get your total number, then set a goal for how many you have to sort through a day to finish by your deadline. And add that task to your to do list each day until your inbox is completely clear.
- It’s sometimes easier to clear out at night when new emails are slower to come in to your inbox. Another trick that you might you use to keep from being distracted or to keep from accidentally deleting new emails if you’re deleting several at a time is to use inboxpause.com. This website allows you to pause your new emails from showing up in your inbox, then to unpause them when you’re ready to see them again. (It’s also a handy tool when you’re working on a project and need to keep from being distracted.)
- Create a folder called “Follow Up.” This folder will be used just as the “Follow Up” folder on your desk should. It will be a place for emails that need to be answered and don’t need to be “filed” away to a permanent file yet. IMPORTANT: When you put an email in the follow up folder, you should put that item on your to do list to be sure the email gets answered and not forgotten. For example, if I am waiting to find out a piece of information for party A I will file her email in the “Follow Up” folder until I get the information I need. But when I move the email to the “Follow Up” folder, I add to my to do list for tomorrow, “Answer Party A’s email about Blah Blah.” In addition, I answer Party A’s email saying I will follow up with her tomorrow with the answer so that she knows I haven’t forgotten her and so she knows when to expect an answer.
- Also create folders for anything you have to hold on to for regularly occurring projects. For example, part of my job is to put out an email newsletter twice a month. People send me emails with articles, ads, pictures, etc. to put in the newsletter. As soon as I get an email with info for the next newsletter, I file it in the “For Newsletter” folder. This way, when I’m working on the next newsletter, all the information I need for that edition is all in one place but it isn’t sitting in my inbox for 2 weeks and I don’t have to worry about forgetting something.
- Delete the emails you no longer need. If you are deleting junk, take the time to unsubscribe to them also. Unless you actually look at the information they send you, all you’re doing is setting your inbox up for more junk to arrive later.
- As you continue to sort through emails, make any necessary folders and subfolders necessary to make emails easy to find. Be sure to put the year on trips or events that occur each year so it’s easier to sort. One way to keep from having too many folders on the sidebar to sort through is to put all finished events of the year in a folder called “Past Events” or “Completed.” Obviously, this will depend on your work area. A ministry example: I would have an active folder for each mission trip for the upcoming year. Then I have a folder called “Past Mission Trips.” Once the mission trips for the summer were finished all the active mission trip folders are moved into the one “Past Mission Trips” folder. I can still find them if needed, but since I won’t be working on them regularly I won’t have as much to sort through each day as I’m looking through folders.
How to keep your inbox clean EVERY day:
- In the 15 minutes before you leave each day the ritual of cleaning the three areas – your desk, your to do list and your inbox, should begin.
- Delete any junk emails, unsubscribe from any you don’t need to continue receiving.
- You should answer any email that can be quickly addressed in about 30 seconds.
- File any emails that need to be filed in existing folders.
- Create any new folders if necessary and file emails in those folders.
- Place any emails that cannot be addressed before you leave in your “Follow Up” folder and be sure to mark those tasks on your to do list for tomorrow. Be sure to respond to those emails letting the senders know when to expect a reply.