One of the best things I learned last year while taking Michael Hyatt's Best Year Ever course was the ability to sort through and organize my life more. Like many people, I get lots of emails. There are inter-work emails, promotions, spam, notifications, forwards, and somewhere in there is hiding some important ones too!
I needed to get a hold of things and process my inbox.
What was surprising to me was learning that I had multiple "inboxes" that needed zeroing. I would get to those, but first off, I needed to tackle my email inbox.
My first step was to go back and select EVERYTHING older than 6 months and then archive it. For work, we use Google Apps - basically Gmail for our business - which means that I can very easily find anything that I needed too from the past.
Need to find that email from that one contact a long time ago? Search for it. What about that important email from a church member that I need to reference? Search for it. There were literally thousands of emails in my inbox, and I didn't need to spend the time to sort, file and delete anything older than 6 months.
Archive and search would clean up at least some of them.
The next step was to take the much more manageable size of emails from the most recent 6 months and start deleting, archiving or filing them into "actionable" to-dos. If anything needed me to DO something, I put that task on a list and then archived it.
If it was an email about cake in the coffee break room at 3pm from 3 weeks ago, I'd delete it.
Through this process, I was able to get my inbox to zero really effectively and relatively painlessly. You could probably speed up this process by archiving everything older than 2 weeks and be fine. Because, lets face it, if you needed to respond to an email and you haven't done it in two weeks, you've probably missed some sort of deadline already!
The hard part came with making sure that I kept my emails at zero. I didn't want to make it a daily task, because I knew that there would be emails to follow up with throughout the week. BUT I did want to make it a weekly one. So, on Thursday, one of the last things I would do before leaving work, would be to zero my inbox. Ruthlessly delete, archive and list my to-do actions.
Here's the process behind how I handled emails - It's from David Allen's book, Getting Things Done. And it really is simple
Note the really important piece of info - if you have to do a task and it takes less than 2 minutes - do it right now. Seriously. Why bother procrastinating any more? Get it over with right away.
If it isn't actionable, but you might need to reference it someday, archive it. You can always search for it later.
Can someone else do it? Delegate it.
Is the task big? Do you need to do it in the future? Will it take multiple steps? Calendar it and identify the next step to accomplish it.
The next step was to take a chunk of time and unsubscribe from 99% of promotional emails. Do I really need to know deals at Ikea? What about Starbucks? Updates from a band whose album I bought 2 years ago? NOPE! Unsubscribe from them all! I now get 5-7 promo emails a week and only from the companies that I want to hear from.
I've been able to keep my inbox super clean and organized. I haven't used any special apps or programs to get to a zero inbox - although, I know people who have. I just used my Gmail app on my phone and Mail for Mac on my Mac to do it. No gimmicks, just delete, actions and archive.
Despite what you might think, achieving inbox zero it totally doable. It might take you an afternoon sort through it all, but it will keep you from having a cluttered mind about "all the things you have to do" (because you probably only THINK you have to do them... that's what a full inbox tells you).
What do you think? Have you ever achieved Inbox Zero? Leave a comment below!
I am a pastor in rural Manitoba that is passionate about the church, leadership, coffee and bicycles.