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 Junk Emails Coming In
- Reduce The Amount of Email People Send
- Keep The Inbox At Zero
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1 – Reduce Incoming Emails
The first step is to deal with the low hanging fruit – emails you can automatically stop.
- 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.
- 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.
- Create Filters for Low Value Emails. I use GMail’s filters very aggressively – I have over 600 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 People Emailing You
- 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.
- 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.” If an email doesn’t require a response, don’t respond – or you risk getting a reply back!
- Prioritize: Then Respond. Your time is valuable, and most e-mail is urgent rather than important. Don’t reply right away – instead, prioritize replying to email like any other task . This will help you manage your time better in general, but for email specifically: it’ll end up discouraging people from emailing you with urgent, but ultimately not very important tasks. People are less likely to email you if they don’t get the satisfaction of a near instant response.
3 – Keeping Your Inbox At Zero
Once you get to an empty inbox, keep it that way. Here’s how I do it:
- 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 immediate action item from the email, I immediately file it away or delete it and get it out of my inbox ASAP.
- 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.
- 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
- Sometimes…Don’t Respond. Really. 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
You know what to do – go clear our your inbox!
(*Statistics from a report by the McKinsey Global Institute)
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