Process Your Email Box to Empty

This week I made it a goal to limit my time in email.  I am on day 4 of checking my email twice a day (at 11am at 4pm) and although it has been difficult (and weird) at times, I am getting used to it.  Checking email only a few times a day is totally the way to go.

As well as making a pledge to limit my time in email, I spent time this week preparing for my GTD implementation by processing my inbox to empty.  I have yet to make the switch to Gmail; I have heard it is wonderful and I am thinking about ways to effectively switch over.”  In the meantime, I have 3 email services that I forward to one place (which then goes to my phone).  As of this moment, my inbox is completely empty…and that is awesome.

I used to treat my inbox as my “To-Do list”.  I would open it up (usually first thing in the morning) and scroll up and down, sometimes aimlessly, looking at emails that have been there anywhere between 1 hour and 4 months (!!) trying to figure out which one to tackle first.  Never again.

GTD has shown me the way, and I highly recommend you try this out.  I know I am early in this process, but I know myself; I stick with things that work, and this works.  If you have a ton of emails in your inbox now, you will need some time set aside for this exercise.  Be patient and take a half an hour at a time if you need.

Here are the steps to clearing your inbox:

  1. Stick with my advice in the earlier post:  Don’t check email first thing in the morning; it can potentially throw off your whole day.  First off, you will waste time in there fiddling around.  Get a few larger goals done before even opening email (more on this in a later post).  Also, turn off the email notification sounds so that you are not tempted to check.  You know which sounds I’m talking about.
  2. When you do check email, act on each one immediately in some way or another.  Let’s face it, people: If the email is still in your inbox, it is there because it needs to be acted on in some way or another.  You have a few choices here:
  3. If it is junk email, delete it.  Heck, delete as much as you possibly can.  What’s the worst that will happen?
  4. Is it a long, informational email?  
  5. If the email requires an action, write it down in your notebook to process later in a To-Do list.  Archive it as well if need be.
  6. If you can act on the email or respond to it in a couple of minutes, do so immediately then delete it.
  7. If the email requires a response you need to wait for, or you need to act on it later, archive it and write it in your notebook under “waiting for”, or something like that.  Call the folder what you like (again, I like archive), but do not leave it in your inbox.

Make sure you create only one folder for emails after you act on them (like Archive, Read, or whatever) so that you are not simply moving emails to another folder that you have to check constantly.  That’s like piling papers on your desk in neat piles that you still need to act on, or even worse, throwing them in a drawer!  David Allen, author of GTD, calls these additional inboxes “buckets”…you don’t want them.

Check email at set times, act on all emails immediately, create your lists in a notebook and archive.  You will feel incredible when your inbox is empty, I promise!

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