(Excepted from the book Finding Focus In A Busy World)
The more things you have in your inbox, the more things you have on your mind. Everything in your inbox represents a commitment of time and focus.
But just because someone sends you an email doesn’t mean they own a piece of your life. Multiply that email by the hundreds of emails most of us get each day and you have one of the greatest threats to focus and productivity that we face on a continuous basis.
It can literally waste hours of your day just going through emails and deleting or responding to them. If you do this before your three most important tasks, then you are unlikely to ever get any meaningful work done.
Focus on clearing out your inbox for one hour. Time yourself and stick to that limit. Work fast and ruthlessly. Do one of three things with each email: trash it, file it for reference, or take action on it. Anything that requires longer than a minute to respond to, put in a separate “Action” folder. Any response that takes less than a minute, do as soon as you come across it. Again, this should take less than an hour - even if you have hundreds of emails in your inbox.
To do this in less than an hour, sort your emails by sender rather than date and group messages together in threads. If you haven’t responded someone’s inquiries in a while and you have 20 emails from them, just look at the most recent email from that person, respond to it, and then see if you can safely delete all the rest.
Go through that process, and if you still have time left over at the end of the hour, go through all your other email folders in the same manner. They tend to be the digital equivalent of shoe boxes in the attic. If you’ve not looked at them in at least a year, then delete or archive them. They’re just gathering digital dust. Get them off of your email and out of your life.
Play The Email Game to really speed up this process www.findingfocusbook.com/emailgame
The Nuclear Option
Here’s the quickest, easiest way to reach Inbox Zero and eliminate that focus draining backlog of emails.
Step 1: Select all of your emails
Step 2: Hit archive
Step 3: Focus on more meaningful activities
You know what will happen? People will email you about the important things again and the burden of going through everything else will be gone. I’ve done this several times in my own life. Just wiped the slate clean. It’s scary until the moment you do it and then it’s wonderful.
This is a big one. It’s not going to take a lot of time, but it’s going to take a big weight off of your shoulders. Commit to doing it. Remember, sort your emails by name first and this can be a surprisingly fast process. Put on some upbeat music and get to it!