Email can be a big time suck, but Elliot Weissbluth, CEO of the financial services company HighTower, has a trick for taming his inbox. He empties it every night.
“Email is unidirectional—anyone, at any time, can just go to your inbox without permission, invitation or consideration,” he writes in a post on LinkedIn. “Empowering the world to demand a thin slice of your attention is more than unfair—it’s a recipe for constant distraction.”
He uses some rules to take back control and get to zero emails each day.
- Unsubscribe from newsletters. It takes more time upfront than simply deleting, but it saves hours every year.
- Don’t bother filing. If you use Microsoft Outlook the Archive button sends an email you’ve dealt with straight to the Archive folder. Most email programs have an advanced search tool that can scan your folders and find whatever it is you need instantly.
“If you do nothing else but these three things, your inbox will be a lot leaner,” he writes. “Whatever messages are left become a to-do list of the items that actually need your care and attention. Keep this list short, between two and five items, or what you can actually hope to achieve on any given day. Get those items done and you’ve just reached Inbox Zero.”
Another tip to try is the Two Minute Rule from David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. If the email will take less than two minutes to read and reply to, then take care of it right now, even if it’s not a high priority. The idea behind this is that if it takes less than two minutes to action, it takes longer to read and then store the task away “to do later” than it would to just take care of the task now.
For emails that will take longer than two minutes to read or respond to, schedule time on your calendar, or add this as an action on your list to do later. Most email programs allow you to highlight, flag, or star messages that need a response, so utilise this handy feature whenever you can.