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How I keep an empty inbox with 2 folders


We receive lots of emails every day and for many of us this causes stress. I don’t think it is the actual email but the fact that it can hold potential relevant information or action points, and we seem unable to keep up.

Empty inbox

In this article I want to share my very simple system of email management that enables me to have an empty inbox every day. I don’t know about you but this gives me a sense of control, and I like to feel in control.

Radu, I don’t need an empty inbox

I hear people saying that they don’t need an empty inbox, or a system to manage their email, that things are fine the way they are, Radu why are you wasting your time writing this anyway.

Let me share a bit of data with you, I take care of my company email list that has around 2000 subscribers. Because I use MailChimp I can see who opened the newsletters I send and, more importantly, how many times.

Guess what, I see people who opened my last newsletter 15 times, these are not so many, however many opened that email 3-6 times, still too much if you ask me

Empty inbox

Why would you want to open a newsletter 3-6 times?

It’s not an email from your boss that you have to read 10 times to make sure that you understood. It’s not an email from your most important client, it’s just a newsletter.

My theory

My theory is the following, because your inbox is full you keep on opening email again and again because you cannot remember if there was something relevant there that maybe needed action from your side. If this is the case for you, I think you need a better system.

Email processing

Many people after they read an email they just leave it in the inbox. Now imagine doing that with traditional snail mail: you open your email box, take out the letters you receive, read them and then put them back in. It doesn’t seem the best way to go about, does it.

After you read those letters, you should put them in a place where they don’t bother you but where you can find them easily, like in an archive.

You don’t need folders

There were times when I was very considerate how I sort my email, each one went into a specific folder after I was finished with it, this took time but I was sure that it will help me find things easier.

After a long time of doing this I realized something, most of the times when I was looking for a specific email I was using the search box and not the complex folder system. I decided to ditch them shortly after and go for a more action driven approach that I will present here.



Email actions

I believe that most email can be classified in the following categories:

  • Delete
  • Archive
  • Do
  • Move to Action
  • Move to Follow Up

Let’s talk about each one of them.

Delete

This is the email that you read (or not) and it does not require any action from your side and it is not relevant for the future, you know newsletters, funny pictures with dogs and other “important” email.

Archive

This is the email you read, does not require you to do anything, but you want to keep it, just in case. You know, the emails where you are in cc or the ones that contain that wonderful FYI.

Because all modern email clients have advanced search options you can just hit archive or move the email into an All Mail folder.

Do / move to Action

Can you solve an email in less than 2 minutes?

Maybe you just need to send a quick reply with I agree, if this is the case then answer right away and then archive the email.

On the other hand, there are emails that require more time, like reviewing a 50 page document or sending that new report. If this is the case then move that email into Action and do it later.

Why 2 minutes?

I don’t think there is something magical with that number, it is more clear when you say 2 minutes than when you say a little while.

Follow up

In one of the companies I used to work in there was a manager that was legendary fast in answering to email, as soon as you hit send, you could already see the reply. Most people are not like that, and if you want to make sure that you follow up on an email you can move it in the follow up folder so that you know who you need to call or escalate.

An empty inbox

By deleting, archiving, answering right away and moving to action you shouldn’t have any problems clearing out your inbox quickly. This gives you more focus as you later only have to sort clear the action folder.

I did not invest the wheel

A lot of the things I’ve described above are things I’ve picked up along the way from other people, so I am not the big genius who finally cracked the code on managing email. I am someone who has tried things along the way and in this article I am sharing what worked.

Email breaks

In my company I am 99% sure that I will not get fired if I don’t answer email within 3 seconds, so I choose to close my Gmail throught the day. I highly recommend that because most of us are not hired to manage email all day.

What about you

How do you keep an empty inbox? let me know in the comments bellow.


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