Alright, first I will confess that I rarely get my inbox to zero but I try and usually end the day with less than 10 emails in my inbox.
Like many of you, I juggle a lot. In some ways my inbox has become a virtual to-do list. When the inbox is full I feel a bit overwhelmed and disorganized.
A person who is juggling multiple demands and responsibilities will have any number of questions, requests, and bits of information being virtually launched at them at all moments of the day. By keeping an organized and clear inbox I am able to be responsive, efficient, and dependable.
If you Google “Inbox Zero” you will find many articles with a variety of tips on how to achieve Inbox Zero. Many repeat the advice of Merlin Mann who is credited for the term Inbox Zero and his 5 step advice to delete, delegate, respond, defer and do. There is also advice out there that tells you to only check your email at the top of each hour or only twice a day. Some of that might work for you, but some may not. We all have our own styles and demands on our life and the key is to find the process and the technology that works for each of us individually.
Here is the process and technologies I use.
I have used Gmail exclusively for over 10 years. If you send an email to my past business Sherry@concepthubinc.com or to my current business firstname.lastname@example.org you are actually sending it to a Gmail account. Gmail has a variety of features and plugins that help you organize your life but you do not have to be stuck with an @gmail.com address to use them. Through Google Business, you can set up your own professional email address.
So how do I use Gmail to keep my life organized?
Multiple Email Accounts
I have multiple email accounts for each section of my life. One is my personal account, one is the account I use for managing fundraising activities for my son’s school band, one is for work and the email of my past company is still active? Why so many emails? It allows me to wear one hat at a time. I can check my personal email less often because there is less likely to be anything urgent there. I can ignore the band email until I am ready to sit down and work on my volunteer activities there. My current company email I keep open almost all of the time and my past company email still exist because that is how some people still know how to get in touch with me.
The filters in Gmail act like traffic cops. I have all the emails that go to my previous company email being sent on a detour to my current company. This way I do not miss an email that was sent to my previous address and I also don’t need to log in to check the previous email. You can also filter emails by topic or by the sender. I have a family member who constantly sends emails to my work address instead of my personal address simply because that is the address in her contacts list. Yes, I have asked that she change it, but change is hard for some people. So I simply filter her emails to skip the inbox and be redirected to my personal account.
Below is the screenshot of my previous company email being redirected to my current company. You will find all your filter options under settings and then the tab “Filters and Blocked Addresses.”
To stay informed I subscribe to Google Alerts and newsletters about many subjects. I receive over 100 informative emails per day. This could become a huge distraction. I made the choice to have all my alerts and other newsletters to be sent to my personal email instead of my work email so that I can avoid such distraction from my most important inbox. I have also set up filters so that such emails actually skip the inbox and are directed into their appropriate folders for me to access when I am ready to sit down and sort through such information. You will notice in the screenshot below that I have filters for incoming bills and coupons set up as well. Notice that there is an exclamation mark in front of bills. The reason is the folders are organized in alphabetically, but Bills is an important folder for me, so I added an exclamation mark in front of the word bills to ensure that the folder is on the top.
You can also set up subfolders. I have a folder for my son Dylan with the subfolder underneath for emails related to Marching Band.
In my work email, I have a folder for every client and every type of internal messages. I do not set up filters for all messages but once an email is answered I file it into the appropriate folder even if I am still waiting for a response.
There was a time when my inbox was full of emails I was waiting for a response back from or that I was waiting to think through or uncover an answer before I responded. This was an inbox that filled up with lots of anxiety-inducing to-dos staring at me everytime I opened my email. This all changed when I discovered Boomerang.
You can try Boomerang for free and receive 10 message credits per month or get all kinds of fun, organizing features starting as low as $4.99 a month and going up to $49.99 per month.
I use the free version still. When I respond to an email and am waiting for a timely response back I set my boomerang to remind me to ping that person again if I do not hear back by a certain day and time. This allows me to file the email out of my inbox and into the appropriate folder until boomerang sends me a reminder.
Another feature I use is the ability to write an email and schedule it to go out at a certain day/time.
These features are simple and, except for Boomerang, have been around for a very long time. Yet it seems every time I sit down with a client or peer and their inbox is open I see hundreds and sometimes thousands of unopened emails in their inbox. I feel myself shaking and the overwhelming urge to clean it up. Maybe I am a little OCD but it makes me wonder if not enough people are aware of the simple ways that are available to keep their digital world a bit more tidy.