An empty email inbox provides an almost zen-like state of calmness-no pressing messages, no advertisements for a bigger penis, and no month-old newsletters that you haven't had a chance to read yet. Unfortunately, very few people ever see the bottom of their virtual box for long, if at all. You will be surprised at just how effective this simple technique can be at reducing stress and clearing your mind for more important tasks.
- For the people who have put this off for way too long (i. e. more than 100 messages), the first thing you need to do is create a new folder in your email program. This should be very easy to do across all popular platforms: Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Outlook, etc. Simply find the button or menu that says, “Create New Folder, " click it, and name your new folder, “Stored Mail". Now, move all of the messages from your inbox into your “Stored Mail" folder.
Presto! An empty inbox in minutes, easy right? Wrong! That's just like cleaning your room by throwing all your clothes and junk in a closet. You've got to pull double duty now: 1. You need to follow the tips below to keep your newly emptied inbox clean, so this doesn't happen again and 2. While you're following these tips, you also need to periodically apply them to your “Stored Mail" messages, chipping away until that folder is empty as well.
- For the slightly more disciplined “inbox"ers (i. e. less than 100 messages), the first thing you need to do is make sure your emails are sorted by date. Most email systems do this by default, but if yours doesn't, read the help section and/or search for “sort by date" in your client.
- Once your emails are sorted by date, start at the oldest email in your inbox. Depending on your settings, this will either be at the very top or the very bottom of the screen.
- Starting with that first email, read it, then decide right then which of the following three categories it falls under: “Need to Reply", “Can Delete", or “Need to Read, but it's sooo long!" Do not skip any messages just because you can't decide which category it should go into-make a decision right then!
- If it's “Need to Reply", then write a response right then. Whether it's business-related or personal, reply with an informative, concise, and to-the-point message. The recipient would much prefer a quick and concise response to a 7 day waiting game, wondering if you even got the email they sent. Once you reply, delete the email (one down!).
- If it's “Can Delete", then you don't need it anymore, and you can simply send it to the trash can.
- If it's “Need to Read, but it's sooo long!", print it out, set aside the printed document, and delete the original email. Now, you can read these at anytime throughout your day: waiting in line at the bank drive-thru, waiting for something to cook, or anywhere else that you have down-time without access to your computer.
(WARNING: Don't just let this lead to a build up of printed out emails, or you're right back where you started. If you feel that an email was important enough to print out and read later, then make sure you put it in your briefcase or somewhere else where it will be with you throughout the day. )
- Continue these steps until you've reached the last email in your list (or, for the first group, your “Stored Mail" folder). Once you finally have a clean inbox, now you need to keep it that way. Every time you check your email, apply the same steps you did above. Decide right then and there which of the three categories the message belongs in, and take action right then! Reply. Delete. Print. It's very simple.
I'll confess, it took me a few tries to finally make this a habit. I would be doing great for a few days, but the onslaught of messages would finally become too much, and before I knew it, there was another page of old emails collecting dust in my inbox. I've finally mastered this technique and have officially cemented it as a habit-four weeks strong on the wagon and not planning on reverting to “email"ism ever again.
If you spend a fair amount of time on the computer and/or receive a lot of emails, having a clean inbox is truly rewarding and refreshing. Try it for just four weeks, and I'm sure you will agree. The first few days are the hardest, but remember: REPLY, DELETE, or PRINT!
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