Spoiler alert: there is almost no possibility of anyone keeping an inbox at absolute zero for an extended period of time.
However, keeping your inbox neat and devoid of clutter is well withing your sights. Recently, I read a Chronicle article (shocking, I know) about the idealistic notion of keeping a zero-base inbox, and while I found valid points, I think that having a nearly zero inbox is absolutely attainable.
For those of you who haven’t met me personally, you may not know that I am a “judging” type – I constantly feel the need to keep order in all aspects of my life. And since I work in student affairs (and am a graduate student… and a Millennial) email strongly influences my everyday experience. So, what do insanely organized, Millennial student affairs grads do to their inbox? They wipe it clean. Every. Day.
Now, clearly I realize that many of you do not fall under those categories, but there are a few tips I would like to share for those of you, “who comfortably live with an inbox hundreds-of-messages deep, [and] who often don’t answer their messages,” (at least, that’s how Brett Foster of Wheaton College puts it).
1. Start organized. Stay organized.
- Create folders for each of your areas or projects. You can even go as far as creating sub folders for those emails that are less important to remember or reference. Think of it in terms of organizing your book shelves or dresser drawers – you feel more relaxed when everything is in it’s place right? It’s the same thing with your inbox.
2. Take time each day to devote to emails.
- I know we’re all incredibly busy individuals and work-life balance can be a precarious line we walk, but taking a set amount of time each day to only answer emails is quite helpful. For example, I get into work at 8:30 AM each morning. From 8:30 – 9:00 AM I clean out my inbox; anything information that I can scan and archive I get out of the way first. Once I’m through with that, I prioritize the rest and move from there. Maybe 8:30 AM isn’t good for you, but I bet you’ve got 30 minutes in your day somewhere that you spare.
3. Read. Respond. Archive.
- Read it, respond to it, and get rid of it. If you already dealt with whatever issue the message presented, there is no reason for it to sit in your inbox. Clutter begets clutter. Cleanliness begets cleanliness.
4. Abide by the 48 hour rule.
- Unless you’re on vacation, at a conference, or sick at home, you should be answering your emails in a timely fashion. If it truly warrants a response, that response should be drafted and sent within two days of the arrival date.
5. At the end of the day, keep no more than five emails awaiting reply or action.
- Say what?! Yea. I said it. No more than five emails. It may seem like a lot, and I know there will be days where that is near impossible, but if you keep it clean, the emails won’t accumulate over time and turn into a heaping mound of agony.
Sure, there are exceptions to these rules. And maybe not everyone can function with such a structure. But for those of you who want to change, try it out. I bet you’ll find a huge weight lifted from your shoulders.