Tips for An Empty Inbox

Yes, you’ve read correctly, it’s not that complicated to have an empty inbox.

Except for the case when you are directly involved in customer relations and you must offer a quick answer, you needn’t have to become enslaved by your email.

empty inbox

Mails, as we call them most often (I wanted to dodge the ‘e’), are merely an upgraded communication channel from the basic version of classic correspondence – the letter. Imagine the email as an electronic letter (hence the ‘e’) which sends a rather important information, but often does not require an action or a quick answer.

A few hundred years ago they didn’t use a letter either, to announce from the mainmast that an enemy ship or land appears on the horizon.

If something is super urgent, other communication methods are used, such as the phone, text messaging or fire alarms. In the case of fire, there are resonant acoustic methods to announce imminent danger, not an email with the subject “Please leave the building or you’ll get burned.”

Now that we’ve settled the role of this communication channel, maybe you will stop hitting obsessively the send/receive button. It’s like picking up your phone, actually putting it next to the ear and waiting to hear someone talk.

A normal inbox of a manager has somewhere between tens and hundreds of emails daily. Let’s assume an average of 222 (so it’s a round number), and in order to survive such a day, every day, you might take into consideration the following (most of the recommendations can be applied to everyone employed):

  • Emails are not considered “work”, but something that facilitates work; nearly the same as a phone call is not work, not even when you work in a call-center; is just a communication channel helping you in the process;
  • Delete all the emails that only need to be read not acted upon. If you choose to keep them, move them to a folder called “lecture”, not in the inbox;
  • Think about why would you keep every email and not delete it;
  • You don’t have to answer emails all day long (neither night), not even if you wish to work at full speed non-stop, you’ll get exhausted eventually;
  • You have to answer according to your priorities and then consider other people’s priorities;
  • Mark without mercy unsolicited emails as spam, but I don’t advise you to do the same with your boss’ messages (even when you know they are). Go clean that inbox!
  • Start your day by “browsing” all emails left from the other day, without acting, delete all the “lecture”. Select the emails that require an action and establish the priority of the tasks generated;
  • Be very concise when answering in order to avoid transforming an email into an endless chat;
  • As much as possible, don’t put everyone in a CC, maybe some are busy and also working;
  • If the email is less efficient than a phone call or a meeting, always choose the latter;
  • Respect everyone’s preference in communication, some are mail-addicted, others are chatty;
  • Don’t interrupt anything just to read the emails;
  • Cancel all notifications, on on laptop/desktop, as well as on your phone/tablet, so you can read them whenever you choose, not when others choose to write to you. You can even set the server to delay their instant arrival by a few hours;
  • Establish a schedule for reading emails. Set it to your “heart” desire, hourly for starters, which is way better than constantly. Then set them at two hours interval and finally, to a maximum of three times a day, the way it makes you feel more comfortable;
  • Don’t worry, there won’t be any trouble if you answer your emails only two times a day: if it’s urgent people will know how to get in touch with you or get your attention;
  • Generally, you receive correspondence (envelopes) once a day, in the morning. Why would you act any different when it comes to electronic mail? Okeeey… once a day may be a bit farfetched, but I am sure you got my point;
  • Don’t send emails outside working hours if you don’t want to receive emails during that same interval. It’s unlikely to have something that urgent it can’t wait for the next morning or even for Monday if it’s during the weekend;
  • Cancel subscriptions to any newsletter, at least on your work email;
  • Ask your team to CC you only for very important emails. You don’t have to know when they use the potty and never ask them for that;
  • Transform the emails that need to be acted upon in tasks and allocate time as you do to any other task. Reading an email should not take longer than 1-2 minutes, and even so, you still need to treat it as a task;
  • Don’t answer emails when you are nervous, you have greater chance to give an answer you will not be quite proud of the next day or the next year. No matter what others write or if they are right or not, ‘Up yours!’ response doesn’t help;
  • At the end (or beginning) of the day, delete, move to folder or archive all emails so your inbox is empty;
  • If your job requires answering in minutes or hours, only the priorities change, all of the above still stand.

This doesn’t mean that the empty inbox guarantees you reaching Nirvana and the emails will stop coming ‘cause they grew shy, but will create a healthy habit of not depending on them.

Careful, though, an empty inbox is not a by default proof of your efficiency and a single dose of Deleteall (a medicine renowned for its properties of deleting all emails at once) will help your career or prevent you from doing your job. On the contrary, professionalism is closely connected to the manner you communicate.

Good luck emailing!

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