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The plague of the overstuffed inbox affects us all – and that monster is no fun. However, we don’t have to win a marathon to tame our inbox and regain control. All it takes is being proactive and putting some rules in place. Small changes to our emailing habits help win the inbox battle.

Stop responding immediately

Don’t be a slave to your inbox. The faster you reply, the quicker you will get new emails. Set predefined times to respond to emails, and only look at your inbox then. Four hours is generally an acceptable response time. If an issue is really that important, someone will call you.

Delete everything you won’t need again

This includes meeting requests, one-word replies, un-important office memos, announcements, and requests from Nigerian Princes. You will never need any of these emails again, banish them from your inbox the second they arrive.

Be concise and precise

If it takes you 30 minutes to craft an email response, you are doing it wrong. While you should never be downright rude in a work email, there is nothing wrong with being succinct and to the point. If you have a question, ask it. If you have a statement to make, say it. Don’t beat around the bush for 8 paragraphs before getting to your point. No one ever composed a novel from their inbox – or at least they shouldn’t on company time.

Don’t put off replying

Inbox nirvana only exists if you stop pretending you don’t have emails to reply to. If an email is in your inbox, it needs to be dealt with. If you have emails in your inbox that are over a year old, you can bet no one is expecting that reply.

Receive less by sending less

While it seems initially quicker to send an email, one can easily turn into a chain. If you are in the same office, do everyone a favour and have a face-to-face conversation. Build work relationships, stretch your legs, and keep your inbox email free.

Create email templates

If you find yourself sending the same type of email over and over – make a template to respond. The next time you need to reply to that hiring request, insert your template, tweak as needed, and send. You’re now replying in seconds instead of minutes.

Unsubscribe like a fiend

Stop deleting and start unsubscribing from the subscriptions emails you get every week but never read. Every time they come into your inbox, take 30 seconds and hit unsubscribe. If you never read them, why keep receiving them? It seems like a waste of time in the moment but will save you long term annoyance.

Set up email rules

Most email programs allow you to establish “rules” that will sort emails into a set folder as soon as they arrive. If you get 5 updates a day from your sales department, send them to a folder entitled “Sales”, especially if you only need to review them at days end. Doing this keeps everything in the right place without cluttering up your inbox.

Empty your inbox at the end of the day

Avoid coming into the office to yesterday’s emails on top of today’s. Set aside the last 30 minutes of every day to clear out your inbox. Go even further and work through those folders you have email rules applied to. Delete and archive as you go. Make this part of your daily routine.

Delete everything when you get back from vacation

It’s surprisingly simple and it works. Anyone emailing you while you are on vacation gets an auto-response. It lets them know you are away, when you’ll be back, who is covering for you, and that ALL unread emails will be deleted on your return and not replied to. Cue panic!

Except there really isn’t much to panic over. You have done your due diligence and let people know what you will do and who can help them while they are gone. Sticking to this plan ensures that important items are taken care of while you are gone, allowing you inbox peace of mind. Remember they can always email you again.

Treat your inbox like temporary storage

Consider your inbox the place emails come to visit, but only briefly. Reply, then archive or delete. Stop treating it like a to-do list and start using it for what it was meant for. Inbox zero is actually possible once you put some management rules in place.

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