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Strategies for Dealing With Email Overload – How To Get To And Maintain Inbox Zero

Did you know that U.S. Workers spend 13 hours per week reading, writing or responding to email?*

I can’t imagine spending that much time on email anymore. I doubt I spend more than 45 minutes a day now.  

But then again…. I’ve gone from receiving thousands of emails per day down to reading and replying to a few dozen per day.

How? I’ll show you. 

How I Got To Inbox Zero

I used to receive upwards of 2,000 email per day. I have since whittled it down to around 200-300 email per day coming in.

80% of those I scan the subject line and delete – and I almost never open and read more than 20-30 per day.

I divide my strategies for dealing with email into three buckets:

  • Reduce Incoming Emails
  • Reduce The Amount of Email People Send 
  • Keep The Inbox At Zero

1 – Reduce Incoming Emails

The first step is to deal with the low hanging fruit – emails you can automatically stop.

  1. Get a Good Spam Filter.  This can immediately make a difference of anywhere from a 20-90% reduction in email traffic. I rarely see spam in my inbox – 99% of it goes straight to the trash.  
  2. Turn Off Notifications.  Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Groupon… I turn a lot of these notifications off. At minimum, set it to perhaps once a day – so it doesn’t interrupt your flow and take over your inbox.
  3. Create Filters for Low Value Emails.  I use GMail’s filters very aggressively – I have over 800 of them at this point.  Every time I receive an email from a friend or colleague that is low value, I consider how I could filter it out so I don’t see it in my inbox, and can instead deal with it at my leisure – by automatically filtering it into my “Review Later” folder. 

These are all ways of reducing the number of emails that hit your inbox through various automated means – the next step is training people to send you less email. 

2 – Reduce The Amount of Email People Send

  1. Reduce External Commitments.  The reason we receive email is because someone wants our attention.  If you have too many emails – maybe the real issue is, you have too many commitments.  Don’t blame the email or the person who sent it – blame the activity or group you are involved in.  
  2. Respond to fewer email.  Robert Scoble noted that “each email he [Robert Scoble] replies to produces between 1.5 and 2 additional e-mail in return.”  So, only respond if you are prepared to continue the conversation.
  3. Encourage Proper Communication.  This bullet isn’t catchy, but it’s the truth.  Sometimes a phone call is better. Sometimes instead of having a four person email conversation, a 5 minute in person or video meeting will get the job done. Email is best for asynchronous communication with clear questions

3 – Keeping Your Inbox At Zero

Once you get to an empty inbox, keep it that way.  Here’s how I do it:

  1. File And Delete Aggressively.  Once you’ve read an email, decide whether you are going to do something about it.  If I don’t have an action item from the email, I immediately file it away or delete it and get it out of my inbox ASAP.
  2. Stop Using The Inbox As A Todo List.  If you do have something that you need to have as a reminder for tasks you need done, stop using your email for it.  Instead,  log it on a separate task list and file the email away. Barring that, a quick bandaid solution? Create a TODO folder and file your task emails in there.  Just get them out of the inbox, and review your TODO folder once a day.
  3. Auto Filter To Buckets.  I already told you to set up filters to automatically keep the low value emails in a “Review Later” pile. Don’t stop now though: Be vigilant, watch the emails that you continue to get, and add filters regularly
  4. Sometimes…Don’t RespondReally. You don’t have to respond to every email.  If I get  unsolicited email, I don’t have any problem deleting it without a response. Life is too short to be worrying about replying to every email you receive.

And a last thought, I don’t do this just because it looks nice. I do this because it makes me more productive.  

When you have a clean inbox, it dramatically increases your effectiveness.  

By removing the unimportant email, you can pay attention when an important email comes in that actually matters to your life

Got it?

You know what to do – go clear out your inbox!

(*Statistics from a report by the McKinsey Global Institute)

The Action Solution

You don’t have to go it alone. If you are struggling with overload in other aspects of your life, feel trapped – and want to finally make time to get the most out of your life, take a moment to read the details about my course The Action Solution and see if it’s something you’d be interested in. It is the result of decades of experience, and hundreds of hours of working with real people – just like you.

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By Sid Savara
Published March 14th 2014
4.3 Stars
1155 votes