One of the most important habits I’ve implemented in both my personal and work email is reaching Inbox Zero on a daily basis. Email is an integral element of communication and identification now. And as a direct result of using your email as your identity for anything and everything, your email is a hot spot for serious clutter. Since getting rid of clutter is basically the ultimate unicorn goal of life, I wanted to share some useful tips in reaching Inbox Zero yourself.
I definitely struggled most with keeping my personal inbox at zero. I attribute this to a lot of things – but mainly that my personal email is just the place where every single online store registration, pointless competition or scoopon advertising email hides and multiplies. I tried the unsubscribe button, but I never seemed to clear all the junk that was already sitting in my inbox, until a colleague told me about Unroll.Me. Once you create an account, Unroll.Me scans your inbox and comes up with a list of all your email subscriptions. You can then go through and select to unsubscribe, keep in inbox or ‘roll up’ – that is, include that as part of a single summary email sent to you each day that gives a quick snapshot of all the emails you’ve expressed an interest in still viewing, without needing to see as a stand-alone item.
If you delete the roll-up email, but want to see what you received that day, you can check out your daily roll up on the Unroll.Me website once you’ve logged in. It’s a really accessible and usable interface, and you can check your past allocations of different lists in unsubscribe, roll up or keep, and change them if need be. To date, I’ve unsubscribed to 261 lists, rolled up 98 lists and kept only 45 lists in my inbox. That means I now receive at most 3 emails a day directly to my inbox, and I can quickly deal with them. My roll up email I receive each morning requires a quick scan of content and is quickly archived. All other emails are read and dealt with, or archived.
Maximise the app functionality
Until it was tragically discontinued, I used the Mailbox app administered by the same team that runs Dropbox. It was a magical app that used the swipe functionality of a smartphone to allow you to quickly and easily sort your emails – whether to delete them, mark as unread, get ‘sent’ to you again at a later date (basically reappear as though they were a new email on the day or a few days before they were actually relevant – great for concert tickets), or get filed away. As an extra bonus, every time you cleared to zero, you got a new daily picture. It was a magical time.
Although Mailbox is gone, the inbuilt Mail app on iPhones now has a lot of the functionality that Mailbox offered, including the ability to easily sort with a swipe. I find dealing with gmail on a laptop or desktop surprisingly clunky as you can’t just drag emails – you need to click to select, then move to folders (although I acknowledge this may be my lack of understanding of how gmail works…). Using the swipe functions is quick, simple, and intuitive, and can be done almost anywhere you go with your phone (which for me, is basically anywhere on this earth).
Setting up Outlook rules has been critical to maintaining my work email at Inbox Zero. I have no idea how to do them in google, but setting it up in Outlook is a quick process through the help icon. As a result, you can direct all your outside work / personal emails straight to the personal folder, avoiding awkward moments when your boyfriend emails you something ridiculous while your partner is in your office. And you can save yourself from that low-level stress that comes with flagging emails in your core inbox and never dealing with them – the emails are automatically sorted and listed as unread, and you can check the individuals folders as and when necessary.
I recommend starting with setting up rules for friends or family you email often in a non-professional capacity, redirecting those emails straight to a Personal folder. Then you can start playing with rules for certain types of emails you get regularly for certain projects that don’t require immediate attention.
Setting up a simple system of local folders
At work we have an integrated online document management system, which makes filing matter-specific folders very seamless. However, email is rarely limited to work-only matters, and it’s important to have a simple set of folders for filing emails you want or need to keep. I have 15 local folders set up to capture personal emails and non-billable project-specific emails. 15 is definitely more than I would like, but somehow I have quite a few projects going on. The benefit of Outlook is the powerful search function which allows you to find things quickly no matter where they are, so your folders can be more generic. I just haven’t overcome a compulsion to have a separate folder for each project, rather than more over-arching concepts like ‘Community Projects’ and ‘Yoga’.
Use those dead five minutes towards the end of the day
You know the ones I’m talking about. When you have Ctrl+Tab+Facebook’d on autopilot a couple of times and read a few articles blowing hot air on the latest non-issue (usually someone’s completely pointless faux-authoritative opinion on parenting, veganism or millenials), and it isn’t quite time to start work on something new, or there’s no motivation to finish something off…or you’re just in that delightful stage of CBF. Take just one minute to clear out all the emails in your core in box that you’ve dealt with, or don’t need to deal with any longer. Be ruthless with the delete key, and drag and dump the save-worthy emails into your local files. Only leave in your inbox what must absolutely be left behind. Challenge yourself to keep at 3 items or less.
These tips merged between personal and work inbox – which I tend to recognise as personal = gmail and work = Outlook. However, the key thing to come out of it is discipline. It is great to deal with your emails as and when you read them. But you only need to commit to once a day, getting rid of (either deleting or filing) everything that no longer needs to be front of mind, being those emails in your core inbox.
As you get into the habit of maintaining Inbox Zero, you’ll find that your stress levels lower as you aren’t faced with a scary pile of unfiled documents and uncertain locations. You’ll also find you don’t waste time looking at useless subscription emails who only aim to sell you stuff and steal your money, under the premise of a ‘once in a lifetime sale!’. They’re lying. It’ll be back. And you won’t need that sale – now or later.
All you need is to commit just a small part of your day to achieving a clutter-free inbox, and you’ll reap the benefits of a less cluttered mind.