Monday, July 1, 2013

Four Simple Steps to Tame Your Inbox

There's a "dirty little secret" that's no secret at all -- most of us have no idea what's in our email inbox, and we have precious little hope of ever getting to the bottom of it.

Want to be free of this and join the tiny cadre of folks who can see every unread message in the inbox at a glance?  Here are four steps that you can take to battle the "incoming tide."
  1. Form the habit of handling your correspondence regularly. Don't skip a session. If you are someone who works religiously from your calendar, then put a time block on your calendar strictly for handling email.  Make this a regular and systematic part of your day and you'll notice the backlog begins to dissolve.
  2. Vigorously unsubscribe from lists that fill your inbox with offers and specials that you are not going to use. When you sign up for a new community or a new service when you purchase something, be sure to uncheck those boxes that opt you into a notification stream. When you see offers and notices that you did not specifically request, take a moment to click through and unsubscribe.
  3. Stop using the Inbox as a To Do list. If you see something in your inbox that reminds you of a task you must complete, add the item to your To Do list (the REAL one) and then archive the email on the matter.  Gmail and Outlook both have To Do lists integrated with your mail reader now. If you don't like how they work, then try out Remember The Milk. It's free and very useful.
  4. Admit that messages over 90 days old are already beyond reach. Archive them in bulk and count on finding the important stuff by search. In fact, begin using search as your primary way to read the mail rather than subjecting yourself to the random tyranny of default inbox ordering.
There are many things you can do to convert your email box from a  into your tool, but if you do only these four things, you'll be well on the way.