Email is the gift that keeps on giving.
Email blesses (haunts) us day and night, at home and at work, on weekdays and weekends, and even on vacation. Sometimes it feels like I spend my entire life reading, responding to, forwarding, and deleting email. I often think fondly of the pre-email era. These days I get 100+ email messages every single day. Over the years I have tried dozens of different email strategies including:
- Not looking at email in the morning
- Not keeping my email Inbox open throughout the day
- Having multiple email boxes – personal, work, etc.
- Having my assistant screen and respond to my email and forwarding me only what I must see
- Experimenting with different email clients
- Setting up multiple email folders
- Creating rules for routing incoming mail
I have had varying levels of success with each of these email strategies. No matter what strategy I am using, I am always fighting to get in the elusive Inbox Zero. After trying dozens of email strategies Here are my 7 New Rules of Email.
1. Work through Email a Couple of Times Daily.
The best way to deal with email is to stay on top of it. Two or three times a day I spend a few minutes working through my email box. While doing this I keep in mind the 3 D’s:
- Do it – Respond to any message that you can handle in 2 minutes or less
- Delegate it – Delegate everything that you can. Can anyone else do this?
- Delete it – Hit the delete key mercilessly
When you are working through your inbox, don’t stop to read blog posts or interesting things that people send you. Your goal is to get as many things out of your inbox as possible.
2. Don’t use your Inbox as a Filing Cabinet
Your inbox is not the place to store things that you have already read or that you might someday need. Instead, create a few folders where you can store things. I recommend the following folders:
- Filed: Thing you might need it again? Have a simple “filed” folder and transfer everything into this folder that you might ever need.
- Waiting For: This file is for everything that you have delegated or are waiting to hear back on.
- Read: Transfer everything that you think you might want to read in the future into this folder.
You could create these as sub folders in your email account or you could create Evernote Notebooks for these. Your goal in creating these folders is to get things out of your inbox.
3. Fight to keep your Inbox Message Count Low.
Most of the time I have fewer than 25 email messages in my inbox. (This morning I woke up to 53 messages) When I see my inbox begin to rise above 50 I fight to get this back down to a low number – always headed toward inbox zero.
4. Empty your Inbox as much as possible on Friday afternoon.
If you get backed up on email during the week, spend a couple of hours Friday afternoon (or over the weekend) working through email so that you can start the next week with a manageable inbox.
5. Create Email Templates for Frequently asked Questions
Do you ever find yourself writing the same emails frequently? Perhaps you respond to customers or people asking questions regularly. Rather than typing out a new email from scratch every time, consider creating a template. I have a few of these stored in Evernote. When I need to respond in a way that I have many times before, I can simply copy and paste and customize.
6. Never Initiate OR respond to Conflict through Email.
If you get a tense email, don’t fire off a tense response. Pick up the phone and call the person. If you need to initiate conflict with a person, don’t ever do it with an email. Conflict over email seldom turns out well. I have written on the danger of online messaging previously here.
Occasionally work through emails that you have subscribed to and hit the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email. This will slow down the steady stream of email that can be overwhelming.
Unless the world ends, email isn’t going away so clean out that inbox.