Galvin and Associates

How to Get Your Inbox to Zero



Wouldn’t it feel great to be able to get your email inbox completely emptied every day? It would reduce your stress considerably and help you to think more clearly. So why do some of us have hundreds of email messages clogging our inbox?

It is easy to get in the habit of working out of our inbox. It is the electronic equivalent of leaving piles of paper on your desktop so that you can see all the work you have to do. When you get a message and you don’t have time to answer it today, it is easy to leave it in the inbox. When you get a message asking you to call tomorrow, it is easy to leave the message there as a reminder. If you have meeting next week, you leave the message in the inbox in case you need to refer to it.

After a few months, you can easily accumulate hundreds of opened and unopened email messages in your inbox. An easy solution that is built right into email software is to create folders. In Outlook, you simply right-click on any folder (in the Navigation bar on the left) and then click on “New Folder.” Here are some that I find useful.

Projects: Create a folder called “Projects,” then create subfolders underneath for any project you are working on where you need quick access to past emails. I currently have 30 projects listed.

Agenda: Create a folder called “Agenda,” then create subfolders for your boss, direct reports, or regular weekly meetings. If your boss steps into your office, you can quickly pull up the email messages you need to go over with him or her.
Actions: Sometimes you receive an email and cannot answer it right away. Create a folder called “Actions” or “To Do” or any other title you like, and then click and drag the email message to that folder. Then create a task or write a note on your next action list as a reminder that you need to do the work specified by that email.

Reading: Create a folder called “Reading” and then whenever you get a newsletter or blog post, you can create a rule so that new email messages are automatically routed to that folder. To create a rule in Outlook, simply right-click on an email message and select “Rules.” This alone could cut down traffic into your inbox by half.
2013: Some of us have so many unopened email messages that we are afraid to delete the old ones. Be brave and hit delete. If you just can’t bring yourself to do that, create a folder called “Old” or “2013” and move all the old messages to that folder. Just drag them over.

Unsubscribe: All of us receive ads or newsletters we no longer want. Get into the habit of unsubscribing immediately when those emails come to you and after a few weeks the flow of unwanted messages will subside.

You can read more about this in the book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen.

With a customized set of folders and the discipline of creating rules and unsubscribing, you will be able to get your inbox to zero every day. Wouldn’t that feel great?

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