Emptying Your Inbox

Fire extinguisher beside office tray containing burning paperOne of my favorite office tricks is organizing my e-mail so that my inbox is empty. Productivity nerds sometimes call this tactic Inbox Zero, and it’s a rule by which I live my business life. I know that PR pros can be inundated with e-mail, perhaps more than most, and I truly believe everyone can tame their inbox.

How do you even begin? Let’s go on a magical productive journey.

First you need personal rules. Every e-mail that lands in your inbox should go through a process. Look at it; read the entire thing to the end. The worst possible waste of time is replying with a question that would be answered if you just read the whole e-mail. Once you figure out what the heck the e-mail is about, decide what needs to be done: archive, answer or forward, or hold for more information.

Your primary objective is to archive the message as soon as possible. If it can be dealt with in under 10 minutes, I usually do it. That time may vary for you. By the end of the day, the main inbox should be at zero.

If you work at an agency, you should organize your e-mails by client or project. Keep your folders (or ‘Labels,’ if you’re using a Gmail system), clearly labeled. Within the folders, keep everything in some kind of order; I prefer chronological. If you work in-house, the same system can be applied by project or even month. So according to Inbox Zero, you don’t delete all your e-mails. You just organize them so you know how to get to them, and you have a clean slate to shoot for while working.

I like this method because it serves as a de facto To Do list. Anything that’s sitting in my inbox is something that needs attention. And it feels good to have it empty. It feels like all my correspondence is under control. It may sound crazy, and I know a lot of pros cringe at the idea of having an empty inbox, but if the idea of e-mail discipline sounds appealing, I suggest you give it a try.

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