With the high volumes of incoming email we all receive, it can be very tempting to let them pile up. In fact, most people use their inbox as a workflow management and archival system. This approach is highly inefficient and creates unnecessary stress. Thankfully, there is a simple way to resolve this problem: empty your inbox regularly.
For the past ten years I have enjoyed the clarity of an empty inbox. I was inspired to do this after reading Getting Things Done by David Allen. In the book he provides a simple approach to clearing out the inbox no matter the volume. At the core of his technique is the workflow diagram. In a way, the GTD approach is similar to a plumber who ensures that water remains flowing through pipes.
To clear any inbox, there are three important things to understand:
1 – An inbox is only for in: The best use of an inbox is to identify new messages. Once they have been read, they must leave the inbox. No skipping over items. Go through every message from newest to oldest until complete.
2 – Empty it regularly: To cope with the high volumes, it is important to clear the inbox every day. Not only does this prevent serious backlog that can impact your efficiency, it can eliminates the stress which comes when important messages are buried under junk.
3 – Create functional folders to store messages: An “action” folder will hold items you need to respond to as soon as possible. A “waiting for” folder will hold reminders of actions you are waiting for others to do. An “archive” folder will hold all non-actionable messages you need to retain. Finally, be sure to trash as much as you can early to reduce clutter.
If you want to enjoy a less stressful work life, be sure to clear out your inbox every day. I speak from a decade of experience on this point. An empty inbox is an awesome sight to behold.