2 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Inbox

Time is the most valuable thing we have (outside of air). One thing that seems to consume a lot of our time is our mail. Many of my college classmates, peers, and just about anyone born in the computer age, have very little experience with actual paper mail. Almost 80% of our mail is paperless. Meaning we get our mail via avenues such as e-mail, and social networking sites like Facebook messages and Twitter. Although most of our mail is paperless, we are unable to get away from paper mail altogether. So how exactly do we manage our inbox?

If you are anything like me, you find yourself getting multiple messages, or e-mails daily. It isn’t uncommon for me to receive 100 e-mails a day. This isn’t even counting the old e-mail addresses I have, that I never use anymore (that probably get just as many e-mails).

Part of this has to do with the way I use my social networking accounts. I previously wrote about 4 Ways to Make the BEST Use of Your Twitter Account.

With this much activity in a day, it is easy to feel like you will never catch up, never be in control, and never be able to see a time when your digital mail stops consuming so much or your time.


Today I wish I could tell you that taking over your digital mail does not consume much time. The reality is, that until I developed a plan to deal with my digital mail (that worked for me), I was never able to take control of this area of my life.

I’d like to share with you what I have found to help me deal with my digital mail.

USE THE E-MAIL FILTERS: What in the world are e-mail filters? For those who are less technical (like myself), filters basically set up folders. These folders are set up by you. Examples of folders you may find useful are: e-mails you are cc (carbon copied) in. OR SPAM, OR newsletters/receipts

It has taken me a while to understand how these exactly work. The reality is, I didn’t know they even existed until I read about them on a trouble-shooting blog (about a completely different e-mail issue altogether). These filters will end up saving you LOTS of time. Basically, these filters tell your incoming mail where to go (which allows you to focus on actual e-mail as opposed to Spam, or Junk-mail).

KEEP UP DAILY: The key to not letting your inbox consume your time is to keep up with it. I have a goal that I have set up for myself (I don’t always get there, but it’s still a goal).

 Here is what it is: “empty my inbox daily.” This seems like a very difficult task at first. To be honest, it is! That is until you make a plan to stay on top of it. By emptying my inbox daily, I never have to worry about not getting things done.

This is much easier once you have set up your e-mail filters, and use them!

KEEP MOVING: One way I have found to empty my inbox daily, is to keep moving. How common is it for us to see a new message, open it, read it, and then do nothing (isn’t this our typical response)? In order for me to reach my goal (empty my inbox) I must ask myself a question: “Is this message asking me to do something?” How I answer this question tells me what to do with the message.

If the answer is YES – I find there are only 2 options for me to make

DO IT NOW: In his book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” David Allen introduces what he calls the 2 minute rule. This rule basically states that ‘if a task can take you less than 2 minutes to do, you must do that task without putting it off.’ I find this to be very helpful when I receive an e-mail that requires me to take action. If I can respond to the e-mail, attach a file; write a note, etc. in 2 minutes or less, I do it. I don’t put it off. (I like to do this before I move on to the next e-mail).

ADD IT TO THE “TO DO” LIST: There is always going to be those e-mails that require you to do something that will take you more than 2 minutes to complete. SO, put it on your “to do” list. This includes the tasks that will take a longer period of time.

I found if this is the case, it works best if I make an appointment with myself. Making an appointment with yourself is a task that seems weird at first. What I mean, is that you set a specific date and time when you will come to it later and get it done.

NO – If the e-mail is NOT asking you to take action, I see only 2 options

DELETE IT: You must decide if the e-mail has information you need to save (A list of e-mail contacts, meeting notes, etc.). If not, then DELETE it! I have never had a problem retrieving an e-mail I deleted that I truly needed (the reality is, that if it’s something I truly need, I can always ask the person to resend the e-mail).

FILE IT: I have a file called Processed Mail. This file ONLY has mail that I have read, taken action on, or has information I will need at a later date. (NOTE: I don’t use this file to hold e-mails that have cute jokes, pictures, etc. Rather, I ONLY use my Processed Mail file as a holding place, or as a ‘go to’ place for information that I will need in the future).

Following these steps will seem like a waste of time at first. However, after you do this for a short period of time, you will find that it truly does limit the time you will need to spend on e-mails.

What do you do with your e-mails?

Do you have any other ideas on how to do this?


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