Inbox Zero: Part 3 – Email Management

Last Updated on April 1, 2022 by Stephanie

Here we are at Part 3, which is all about email management and how to keep your inbox zero going!  You now understand what Inbox Zero is and you’ve cleaned your inbox like crazy.  If you don’t, go back and read Part 1 and Part 2!

If you’re ready, now what?  You maintain it!

Floating envelope pictures; Inbox zero Part  email management; creating time for life

Maintaining this is actually quite easy and will leave you wondering why you weren’t doing this all along.  It involves three major points:

  1. Pick just two or three times a day to process your email inbox.
  2. Process it fully every time.
  3. When you fall off the wagon, take time to get back on.

Let’s dive into each of these pieces now!

Pick just two or three times a day to process your email inbox.

woman holding a watch; time for email managment.

So many people say this cannot be done, but it can.

My full-time job is as a teacher.  I get emails all day long, but I’m going to be honest, I was hired to teach children, not answer emails.  Think about your job or your personal titles.  When you signed on to be a mom, was a major part of the job description checking your email?  No.  What about being a wife? Nope.  Email wasn’t in my vows. Yes, email management comes with these jobs, but it should not be a focus.

Does email sometimes play a significant role in communicating in your job or your roles?  Yes, it does.  However, it absolutely should not hijack your day or tear you away from the important work you are supposed to be doing.

Also, if you did everything right in part 2 of this series, cleaning your inbox, you shouldn’t have that much coming in.  If you still do, we will talk about that in the processing section below!

Work Email

I pick just two times to process these unless I am all caught up with everything I need to get done during the day.  The two times I choose to process are after I’m done with one or two of my main tasks of the day (typically just before school starts) and then once during my afternoon plan time (I have one each day).

I chose these two times because I know I am most productive in the morning.  I don’t even open my email until I’ve done something important. Brian Tracy’s book “Eat That Frog” talks about how we need to complete those hard tasks first.  However, I do understand that updates for the day and things that happened overnight could be waiting for me, so I make sure I check it before school actually starts.  Then, in the afternoon, I can see what has happened during the day and process anything or add anything to the list for the next day.

There might be a quick glance before I leave, but once I’m out the door, my email is off for work.  A 24 hour period between receiving and responding is still considered timely, so it can wait.  Oftentimes, checking your work email can derail your evening with worry or an ever-growing to-do list for the next day.

If it is that important, someone will contact you another way.

Personal Email

My personal email is one that I typically check when I get home as my prescribed time.  However, if I am waiting somewhere (picking food up, in line at the store, etc.) I will check it really quickly.  I do not typically check my personal email at work because when I am at work, I want to get as much possible for work done so I can turn off work mode when I go home!

Again, if it is that important, someone will contact you another way!

Process it fully every time – Email Management 101

When you open up your email, it is time to get to work processing!  Just remember that for every email, you need to take action.  The key to great email management is: Don’t leave it in your inbox!

For every email, you can act:

  • Delete it
  • File it
  • Respond to it or do its action
  • Add its action to your to-do list and file it

Delete it

If it is an email you feel like you could automatically delete, consider unsubscribing before you delete it.  I will often stay subscribed to newsletters or store emails because there are times that I do want to really read them or use their coupons.  A lot of times though, I just delete them.  If it interests me, I might do the next action instead!

File it

If it is something that interests you or it is something that you are going to take action on at a different time, file it!  Part two talks about creating those categories or labels for your email.  If it is something you know you’ll need later like a receipt or a confirmation email, file it away!

2 Minute Rule – Respond to it or do its action

David Allen has a lovely time management and productivity tip revolving around two minutes.  If the action or response will take two minutes or less, just do it.  Don’t put it off!  For example, every Friday, I have to post our school newsletter to the website.  When that email is in my box on Friday morning, it only takes me about a minute to download and post to the site.  Why waste time putting that action on a list when I can do it right then and there?

Add its action to your to-do list and file it

Person writing on a to do list

If, after reading an email, you know that the response or action is going to take you longer than two minutes, add the action to your to-do list, file it appropriately, and move on.

This is where you have to practice self-discipline!

I get it, I understand the pull, but this is where your day gets derailed.  Don’t let someone else’s agenda hijack your day.  So, again, add the action to your to-do list, file it, and move on.  Finish processing everything.  You’ve added it all to your list and can act on it on your terms.

That is it!  Process through everything every time, and you will love the way it makes you feel to get it done.

When you fall off the wagon, take the time to get back on

You will fall off the wagon.  This will especially happen in the beginning because you may have missed some email lists you wanted to unsubscribe from, and you will get distracted.  Remember that a two-minute rule will save you!  If it is going to take you longer than two minutes, then put the action on your list, file it away and move on!

At some point though, your email management will become a habit, a wonderful healthy habit for you.  You will get so quick at processing through your email that it will astound you!

Again though, you will get backed up every now and then.  Life happens.  When you do, that is fine, but go through the process outlined in part two and get yourself back on track.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve read this far, I am already so proud of you!  This may seem like a super small thing, completely insignificant in the grand scheme of getting your stuff done.  However, email management really does free up your time and help you deal with at least one or two inputs in your life that can sometimes be overwhelming.  Do the extraordinary and get that inbox taken care of and keep it that way!

I can’t wait to hear in the comments how it went!

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