Email: 3 Quick Steps To Keeping A Clean Inbox

Do you struggle to keep a clean inbox? I know a lot of people who can’t keep up with their email. The same people often don’t return email. Why? Because they’re buried in email. But there is a way to keep a clean inbox.

mailbox-308123_1280 Email: 3 steps to keeping a clean inbox: Photo of old mailbox

I hear stories of people who get hundreds of emails a day. I guess I’m not that popular. I do get dozens of emails in three different inboxes, every day. I have a personal account, a work account, and my danerickson@danerickson.net account. But I’ve developed a simple three-step system to keep my inboxes clean.

3 Steps To Controlling Your Email

  1. Stop signing up for junk: First, I rarely add my name to any sort of email list. I only add my name to lists of organizations or people that I need to communicate with. Occasionally, I’ll sign up for a blog, but I’m very, very selective. I only give my email out to those whose messages truly resonate with my own interests. You can also take your name off lists. Don’t feel bad. They’ll probably never notice. 
  2. Check your email every morning: I go through all my accounts each morning. Here’s the deal: even though I haven’t signed up for many lists, I can still count on 50-75% of my email being junk. Most of that gets trashed without much attention. I’ll glance at the sender and the message. If something catches my eye, I might read it quickly before I trash it. I save email from family, friends, and business associates. I also save appointment reminders. Once I trash the junk, I usually only have 10-20 messages left.
  3. Prioritize and send short responses: Next, I consider which messages are most important. An email from my boss would get higher priority than an email from a friend asking about weekend plans. When I respond, I get straight to the point. I answer any questions as briefly as possible. In most cases this can be done in a sentence or two. If I know an email requires a longer response, I may leave it for later. Once I respond, I either trash or file the email so it’s no longer in my inbox. It’s that simple.

It Only Takes Minutes A Day

The process takes me about 10 to 15 minutes. Presto! I have a clean inbox. I occasionally check my email throughout the day and repeat the process. On any given day, at any given time, I have no more than a handful of unchecked email. 

Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Don’t sign up for crap you don’t need.
  • Take your name off stupid lists.
  • Check your email every morning.
  • Get rid of junk immediately.
  • Prioritize.
  • Respond briefly.
  • Repeat the process a few times a day.

Last Thoughts On Email

Don’t be too short: I hate it when people respond to my email with two or three words that don’t really answer my question. Make sure to be polite and thorough, but keep it short.

Be leery of unsolicited email: If someone starts out their email apologizing, but then follows up with a sales pitch? There’s a 95% chance it’s getting trashed. The least you can do is start a conversation with someone before trying to sell them your shit.

You can keep a clean inbox with this simple 3-step process: kill the junk, check daily, and respond briefly.

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