Clean Out Your Email Inboxes

It’s a new year and I, like many people, have been thinking about organization and taking care of tasks that seem to get put off throughout the year. I’m working my way through my own list of 10 Ways for Music Therapists to Start the Year Off Right, and have posted about my progress so that you might get some ideas on how to make these tasks do-able in your life. Yesterday, I cleaned off my desk and it really makes a big difference in how I approach my limited work time!

I’ve seen on the Facebook several posts about overflowing email inboxes. Mine was that way too, even though I learned from Marsha Egan and Kat Fulton ways and reasons to keep my email inboxes empty. So just before the new year, I accomplished TWO empty email inboxes and have maintained it for 15 days! Here’s how:

yahoo empty

Here is my empty Yahoo email inbox.

First, anything that was over 2 days old, I deleted. If you’re really nervous about this, then you can archive them. That way, you can still search for something that may be important. However, email is a fast-paced form of communication and with smart phones and tablets, people expect immediate replies. So if they didn’t get one from you and haven’t contacted you again about it in the last couple of days, it’s either not important or no longer relevant. So let the 8,700 emails that you’ve let pile up over the last year(s) go!

Then, I went through each email that was left and dealt with it by 1) reading and deleting, 2) acting on it, or 3) filing it. How do you know which step to take? Well, full inboxes (and piles on your desk) are actually the symptom of indecision. You can’t decide what to do with the email (or paper), so you skip it and will “take care of it later.” Only “later” never comes. So this is the decision process I used:

  • Read and Delete those emails that are just for information. They have no need for a reply and have been sitting in your email inbox waiting for you to have time to read them. Now is that time!
  • Act on it if the action takes 2 minutes or less. It takes just a few seconds to put that date on your calendar, reply to a question, or copy that recipe into folder on your computer that is just for recipes.
  • File it if it takes longer than 2 minutes to address. You can do this by creating a folder in your email system. You can label it Action Items and put everything that you need to take action on but would take longer than 2 minutes or you can create a folder with a specific topic, for instance a committee that you are on. But here is the important step: Schedule an appointment on your calendar to take care of this item. Your inbox should stay clear so that you can deal with new email that comes in each day. But some emails require actions that take longer than 2 minutes to address, so that’s when you need to schedule an appointment for it, just like you would schedule a meeting. If it’s not on your schedule, you won’t get to it!
gmail empty

GMail is so pleasant when it’s empty!

Ok, but how do you maintain this so that you don’t have another pile of 2,307 emails by the end of the month? At my scheduled times that I deal with email, I do the same process: Read and delete, take action (if it takes less than 2 minutes), or file it and schedule a time to deal with it.

I hope this helps you to clear out your email inboxes. Please post pictures of your empty inbox on Facebook or in the comments!

If you’d like some help working through this process or learn other ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder, Contact me for information on the Work Smarter Not Harder 5-week coaching program. Sign up in the month of January 2015 receive a 15% discount!