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Here’s a quick stress-reducing tip for this week’s blog post: Clean out your email inbox. Really? Yep. Absolutely. I stumbled across this concept a couple of years ago from productivity guru Merlin Mann. He terms it Inbox Zero. I coin it as stress-relieving bliss.

For me, firing up Gmail or my email client that I use for work (Postbox) and seeing a long list of messages is a sure-fire way to raise my stress level. That long list of messages is a sign that there are multiple things I need to respond to, process, filter, or dump into my task management system. Conversely, when I take the time to deal with my email I simply feel better. It’s a better way to start the day with a nearly empty inbox than hundreds of messages piled up with absolutely no organization. That’s akin to throwing a giant pile of papers on my desk.

Now, you may think, “There is absolutely no way I’ll ever get to Inbox Zero.” I’m here to assure you that it’s possible. If you incorporate a set of habits I almost guarantee that email isn’t the thing that adds to your stress load.

1. Set aside time to check email

Don’t leave Gmail or Outlook up all day. Every time you receive a message it interrupts whatever creative flow you’re in. I know it’s hip to respond to emails quickly. However, it’s wiser to prioritize your time. Spend a few minutes in the morning with your email then shut it down. Most people have optimum creative energy in the morning. Use that time to work on larger projects. After lunch crank through as much email as you can in a 30 minute period. Shut it down again and work some more on projects. Another approach is to attack your email in short bursts throughout the day. Whatever approach works best for you – but don’t feel as if you need to respond to every email immediately.

2. Set up a folder system for your email

We can’t get to Inbox Zero by simply deleting all of our messages.   Instead, categorize emails that you need to keep by creating folders to “store” your messages. Every folder system will look different but mine are set up by areas of work:

-To Do Later

There are a few more but that’s the basics. They are still searchable, but now they are organized by topic. Our Pastor has around twenty-five folders and he can usually find the email he needs in about 10 seconds. It just works.

3. The Two-Minute Rule

This is from GTD but it applies so well to email. If you can respond to the message in two minutes then go ahead. You’ll spend more time filing it and revisiting it later.

4. Review

Once or twice a week I’ll go through all my folders and delete emails that I don’t need anymore or take further action on an email that moves a project forward. Your email isn’t your task management system but it is an inbox that needs reviewing.

5. Be diligent

If you’ve never taken the time to consider Inbox Zero then I can assure you this will take some time. I’d love to claim that I’m a guru at Inbox Zero but I’m not. My inbox will fill up due to the busyness of the day and before I know it I’ve accumulated over 100 messages. I’ve read them all, but I haven’t taken the time to categorize them. The good news is that the more you work at an Inbox Zero lifestyle, the easier it will become.

There you go – 5 quick tips to an Inbox Zero lifestyle. It still takes time and effort, but in the end you’ll feel better by controlling your email instead of it controlling you.

Til next time,