Inbox Zero: Step two

In an earlier post, I gave you my tips for whittling down an overwhelming inbox to something more manageable. There’s no way to imagine reaching Inbox Zero if you have 25,419 emails in your inbox. If you have 127 emails in your inbox? Still a daunting task, true, but consider how much progress you’ve already made! YOU CAN DO IT.

In step two, you’re going to be looking at individual emails. If we were following the Getting Things Done method precisely, this would also involve completing any actions/tasks/insert your word of choice here that you can do in less than two minutes.  If you want to do this, go ahead. Otherwise we’ll come back to that in step three. You should be aware that in doing this individual review, you are likely going to come across things you were supposed to do a year and a half ago. Fight the urge to give up in despair. I speak from experience when I say that yes, it is awkward to email your boss and say “I was supposed to do this in October 2010, I just did it now, and I need your feedback.” But it is also an amazing feeling to 1. finish the project that has been hanging over your head for so long and 2. to tell your boss that the reason the project came to your attention is because you only have seven emails in your inbox.

Step two

  1. Sort your email however you want–by date or by sender. If you sort by date, I recommend starting with the oldest emails because you’ll make more progress more quickly, and you’ll feel better about the project.
  2. Quickly review each email. Is there anything you need to follow up on? (A question you need to answer, a task you need to do, or the like. At this point, if it’s an email from three years ago from a friend that you wanted to respond to, you’re not going to. Give up and archive the email.) If not, move it to your archive. If there is, keep it where it is. We’ll come back to it in step three.
  3. Keep going until you’ve reviewed all 127 emails. Depending on how quickly you’re able to skim the emails (and whether you have 127 emails or 271 emails), this shouldn’t take more than two or three 15 minute sessions. (Then again, I’m terrible at judging how long things take, so if it takes longer, don’t be discouraged.)

Hopefully you now have a completely manageable number of emails in your inbox. I judge “completely manageable” as meaning able to see every email in your inbox without scrolling when on a computer with a decent sized monitor. So 25-35ish.

Before we get to step three, we are going to take a look at different productivity tools. In the meantime, keep up with managing new emails by deciding if you need to create a filter for emails from the sender; if you need to unsubscribe from the sender; if the email is meaningful enough to come to your inbox, but doesn’t require you to do anything; or if the email is meaningful and requires you to take action. Create the filter, unsubscribe from the email, read and archive, or DO THE ACTION and archive the email. If the email requires a longer follow up or multiple steps, do what you can, keep the email in your inbox, and we’ll talk about how to get it out of your inbox but not out of mind in step three.

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