Are you the type of person that feels completely overwhelmed when your inbox sits above 100 unread emails, or are you the type that couldn’t care less if your inbox was currently sitting at 1,348? I am the first type and Kate is the second; no doubt about it.
Kate seems completely at peace seeing her inbox rise above 1,000 unread emails. She has everything under control and has some strange #idontknowhowshedoesit way of managing her inbox. She also doesn’t organise into folders which completely stresses me out. If this was me, it would mean total overwhelm! But for Kate, monitoring and organising all her emails is unnecessary because, the way she sees it, it is not helping to make progress. It’s of such low priority that keeping on top of it would be inefficient.
I, on the other hand, cannot deal with an inbox over 100. In fact, I find it hard to work, and feel out of control when the count hits three digits. Maybe it’s a control thing. Maybe it’s fear of missing something. Regardless, I like controlling my inbox and I am OK with that.
So when we posted about this a while back, we received a lot of DMs asking how we manage our unread emails. While there are a lot of approaches to working towards inbox zero, this is how I do it. My advice is pretty simple. Over my corporate career I have attended professional development courses and learnt the three step rule to better email management. You know, the action, delete or file methodology? I take my cue from this.
Some people colour code, some set up a folder to action later on, but I always mark an email unread if I still have to do something with it. I find that as a busy parent, I am always doing things on the go and, yes, this includes writing and responding to emails. Often, I read an email and later realise I have to action it, so I go back and mark it unread. Marking my to-dos unread means at any time I know exactly how many emails I have to action.
Delete the unnecessary
Each morning, I scroll through and delete the emails that have hit my inbox overnight that I classify junk or don’t need.
I recommend unsubscribing to any emails you don’t read (but definitely not to Circle In!).
I have set up around five templates in my drafts folders for standard email responses I use often. Why re-type every time?! The templates are ready to go at any time and this helps me get through my emails quicker.
Weekly clean up
Every Friday I spend an hour cleaning out my inbox. It’s my favourite part of the working week and a great way to feel in control of your to-do list as you head into the weekend. I start by sorting my emails by name or sender. I then work my way from top to bottom and ensure that I am on top of absolutely everything. You would be surprised when doing this as to how many emails you may have missed over the week! This also allows me to then file in groups and move as much as I can from my inbox to my folders. Sometimes I am shocked as to how many emails over a week I can accumulate from one person.
Use other communication methods
At Circle In, we have recently moved all internal emails to team collab tool, Slack. I think the whole team agrees that it has been life-changing. I will admit that it too has its challenges at times, especially as we grow in size and communicate more. It’s not uncommon to have 15 new notifications at once from the team, and so juggling these across different channels and staying on top of responses can be tough. But using direct messaging technology has taken some of the pressure off our inboxes and brought us one step closer to inbox freedom.
Sometimes going ‘old school’ is OK too
I still use a good old paper notebook to keep on top of my to-do list, transferring actionable items from my email into one comprehensive list. Call me old fashioned (or, as Kate would say, just stationery obsessed!) but I love my notebooks. Nothing like putting pen to paper to help get ideas and thoughts out of your head and organised. (For those wondering, my go-to notebooks are An Organised Life and the On Purpose project planner from Feather and Noise.)
Whatever your inbox habits—organised chaos or inbox zero—it is about finding a rhythm that works for you and sticking to it. I can’t promise that it will be easy. Some weeks your inbox will be less organised than others and you might have to spend more time in there.
So, I will just continue dreaming of the day we can have a four-hour work week and check emails only once in that time. Until then, I like my little email process and it works just perfectly for me.
Written by Jodi Geddes, Co-founder of Circle In