A few years ago I heard about “email bankruptcy,” where an executive simply deleted all his piled-up email and then found a way to let all his previous emailers know what he was doing. If they wanted a reply on something, they’d have to write a new email or re-send the old one.
It might have bugged some folks, but it got him to “inbox zero” pretty quickly. Only an exec could pull this off; I doubt a middle manager quite has the workplace capital to be able to do it without some repercussions.
For the rest of us, what to do when the inbox creeps past 50, 100, 200 emails?
Here’s a simple trick. It’s totally psychological, but I’ve used it twice in the last six months, and it works wonders. Here’s what my Inbox often looks like, full of messages. (Senders and subjects deleted here for the sake of privacy.) Yours might look like this, too:
Even with a mere 40 messages here, I’m still a ways away from inbox zero. So I’ve created a folder called “0 akj inbox” that shows up underneath my actual Inbox. The “0” is so it alphabetizes at the top. I leave all my sub-folders expanded so I can always see “0 akj inbox.” Then I make this move:
And… voilà! Empty Inbox:
Sure, this didn’t do the work of actually responding to those 40 messages. They’re still in “0 akj inbox,” awaiting my attention. But the couple times I’ve zeroed out in this way recently (rather than declaring actual email bankruptcy) has really cleared my head and allowed me to focus on the work I have to do. If 10 messages come in in the next hour, I can quickly work through them and keep my Inbox at 0. And even chip away at the new sub-folder I’ve created.
Just a mind trick? Perhaps. But so much of staying on top of email is, I’m convinced, psychological. The more email I have, the harder it seems to work through any of it. The less I have, the better I do staying zeroed out on a daily or weekly basis. Seeing my Inbox at 0, as above, makes me much more efficient on email, even if all I did was a simple drag-and-drop.
And now, on to that sub-folder….
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