Empty inbox to zap stress, boost productivity

I’ve written about the individual steps your can take to deal with your email inbox, but I recently wrote this post and decided it would be a good idea to link to the individual tips from this one post.

Stress-free productivity: You can do lots of things to approach it, but let me suggest one that you might not have thought about.

Empty your e-mail inbox.

Why? Because you’re using it as a calendar, contact list, task list, reminder list, reading list and a whole bunch of other things, with little actual hope of actually finding what you need when you need it. And this state creates stress.

Don’t believe me? Try the following tips on your overflowing inbox and see if a burden doesn’t lift.

Trash it

You mean to read those e-mail newsletters and promotions from 2008, but somehow I doubt you’ll get much value from them now. Trash all old e-mails from your inbox.

Unsubscribe it

About those newsletters – if you haven’t read them in the past, will you read them in the future? Maybe not. Should they offer an unsubscribe link, use it and forget about the newsletter.

Mark it as spam

Don’t know how you got on some distribution lists? Or are newsletter publishers not respecting your unsubscribe wishes? Mark the e-mail as spam in your e-mail program. You can also mark e-mail as spam in a web client like that for GMail, Yahoo mail and others.

File it

While discarding old e-mail, did you run across messages you want to keep? Put such messages in their own folders where you don’t have to see them unless you need them.

File it—without touching it

Getting lots of e-mail from client X about project Y? Tired of manually moving it to the client X, project Y folder? Set up a rule to do two things: check for all incoming client X, project Y messages; and put these messages into the right folder.

Rules are pretty flexible things. You can sort e-mail using many criteria (like the “from” address or text in the subject line) and have the rule do other things besides sorting, like forwarding, redirecting and deleting.

Try this: once you create a rule, select all messages in your swamped inbox and execute your rule. Several rounds of rule running should sweep swaths of messages into the right folders. Later, check the contents of said folders for any “false positives” and fine-tune your rules.

Tasks

Does your inbox serve as a task list? It shouldn’t. Turn messages into tasks and assign future dates so that tasks reappear on the day you need to do them. Then move the original e-mail out of the inbox.

Meeting requests

You can also save e-mail as an event in your calendar. Then move the original e-mail out of the inbox.

Contacts

You can create contacts from e-mail (especially e-mail that contains e-mail signatures) just as easily as you create tasks and events. Then move the original e-mail out of the inbox.

Happy cleaning!

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