60: Habits and Principles to Manage Your Email Inbox

Email overload plagues almost every manager. After feeling frustrated with myself for missing important emails and watching my inbox slowly tick up, I decided to take a new approach to managing my inbox. I set out to learn more about various approaches to email management and then try them out. In this episode, I share with you the various practices I learned and the impact I’ve noticed on my own mental state, productivity, stress level and inbox management in just a few weeks.

This is part one of a two part series on email. This episode tackles personal email management. Part two will tackle team email practices.

The full episode guide includes questions for reflection on your current email habits, steps for how to clear your inbox, a description of the 5 principles and suggested tactics for each. Get it when you join the Modern Manager community or purchase the full guide at themodernmanager.com/shop.

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Read the related blog article: Strategies and Tactics to Achieve and Maintain Inbox Zero.

Key Takeaways:

  • Inbox Zero is a mindset that gives you freedom from your email. It’s about having the right tactics and habits to keep your inbox empty so you can spend your mental energy on more important activities.
  • Often we don’t have intentional practices for email management, which leads to unhelpful behaviors like ‘grazing’ on email all day long, using the inbox as a to-do list, reading email and marking as ‘unread’, etc.
  • Consider how you can implement these five principles to effective email management – the tactics you decide on will be unique to your particular situation and preferences.
  • Principle 1: Your inbox is not your to-do list. If an email requires an action that will take more than 2 minutes, add it as a task on your task list (paper or digital) and archive the email.
  • Principle 2: Not all emails are equal. Not every email requires the same level of attention. Skim an email and then decide if it’s a priority to spend more time on it. Create a ‘someday-maybe’ list to track websites, articles or topics you *may* want to explore in the future.
  • Principle 3: Touch an email only once. Only open your inbox when you’re in a position to take action. That may mean removing email from your mobile device. Consider scheduling a few 30-minute blocks on your calendar to address email.
  • Principle 4: Take advantage of technology. Email apps have lots of features native or as add-ons to make email management easier. Look for the ability to ‘snooze’ an email for later, set a reminder for the email to return to your inbox, and create email templates.
  • Principle 5: Reduce the number of emails you receive. Unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read or have them auto-filtered into a specific folder.
  • Clean out your existing emails by selecting a date before which all emails will be archived. For all emails between that date and the present, go through them following the two-minute rule. Select the date based on the number of emails and likelihood of there being anything that still may warrant your attention even if its a few weeks or months old.

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