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How To Keep Your Inbox At Zero

Monday morning. There are 130 emails waiting for you in your inbox. Typical.

You can’t tell which ones are urgent and which ones are just a waste of digital memory. What are you going to do?

Option A: Carefully read each and every one of them.

Option B: Declare email bankruptcy and delete them all. (The easiest way to keep your inbox at zero!)

Unfortunately, neither option seems wise. But you can’t just leave them there. You have work to do. And hidden in that pile of emails is a very important message that could reshape your work week.

So what are you going to do?

A few years ago, I was introduced to the Getting Things Done method that was developed by David Allen. I was skeptical at first but once I started applying it, I was surprised at how well it worked. The trick is to use it and not let it become just another “good idea.”  Own it and make it your next good practice.

You are going to need to make five email folders. Mine aren’t identical to these but they are close.

  • @Actions – This is where you will put the emails that require action. Mark the emails as unread so that you can see how many emails you have waiting for you.
  • @Waiting For – Did you send an email off to an agent last week? Waiting for a reply? Put emails like that in this folder.
  • @Reference – This is where I put all the articles, blog posts, author newsletters, and infographics that catch my fancy. If I have a spare moment during the work day, I can go back and look at them.
  • @Project – Make as many of these folders as you need. Personalize them with the name of clients, books, or writing projects. Then move all the relevant emails over!
  • @Someday – Daydreaming about a future author website? Or maybe your future novel? Put emails that have to do with future projects in this folder. You can look at it when someday comes instead of wasting your workday today.

Once you’ve created the appropriate folders, you have a few more questions that need to be answered before you can get your inbox to zero. But you must realize that your inbox is not a folder. Don’t plan on storing things there long-term.

While you are wading through your 130 emails, see if you can do one of these five things:

1. Delete It - Is it spammy email that you don’t need? Unsubscribe from the list and then delete the email. Don’t report it as spam if it is something you were once interested in and just aren’t any more.

2. File It – Will the email fit in one of the folders you created? Store it there.

3. Delegate It – Do you really need to be dealing with this email? Is it a better fit for someone else in the company? Or your agent? Pass it along!  Just write them a note so they know why they are getting it.

4. Do It - The chances are, responding to the email will take you less than two minutes. If that’s the case, just get it done with right now.

5. Defer It - Does the email require a long detailed answer that you simply don’t have time for right now? File it in the “Defer It” folder. Again, remember to mark it as unready so you can see the count at a glance.

Sorting your email through those filters will help you get your inbox at zero. It takes time to get the system down, but once you do have it down, you won’t want to stop. Need a visual reminder? Download the free flowchart to keep by your desk.

How many emails do you have sitting in your inbox right now? What tips can you offer to help other authors struggling with an overloaded inbox?

About Caitlin Muir

Caitlin Muir knows the power of social media first hand. She's on the editorial team of The Social Media Club, which connects media makers from around the world to promote media literacy, industry standards, and ethical behavior. She blogs about faith, love, and social media at CaitlinMuir.com.

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3 Responses to How To Keep Your Inbox At Zero

  1. When I was an office manager I followed the rule to “touch each sheet of paper once.” As you open mail, you file it. As you pay bills, you file them. As people hand you work, it goes into the appropriate folder or box. This rule followed me into my teaching days, and I was the only one w/o stacks! I like your system, and though I keep my email down to 2 pages … I think I’ll go make those 4 folders! Thanks.

    • Caitlin Muir #

      Great advice! :)

  2. One of my partners actually hired an assistant just to help manage his inbox. It didn’t work out, because he found out she was simply archiving everything without telling him which emails were important and which weren’t.

    I mostly just ignore everything, and try to unsubscribe from anything I know I’ll never actually use, even though I’d probably benefit from it!

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