Getting your emails to zero (and keeping them that way) might sound like a dream, but it’s totally doable, and you can get this whole process set up during a lunch break, while your children are having some quiet time, or during another hour of the day you’ve dedicated to moving your life forward.
This is our favorite screen on Gmail’s Inbox app, and you can experience it, too!
(Simply follow the five steps we’ve outlined, and if you’d like us to send you additional email techniques used by experts like David Allen, Julie Morgenstern, Merlin Mann, and Michael Hyatt, click the green button below–or at the end of the post. Enjoy!)
STEP 1: Create this Specific Set of Email Folders
There are a lot of different perspectives out there when it comes to how many/what kinds of folders to create, but these will serve you well. A couple of other notes: The “@” sign moves these to the top of any other folders you’ve created, and if this is your first time creating folders (or labels, if you’re in Gmail, simply Google, “How to make folders in my Gmail/Yahoo/Hotmail account”). All right, here are the seven folders we suggest you create:
- @Immediate Action – You work from this folder each day, check it before you go to bed at night, and get it all the way to zero at least once a week. Example: A colleague of yours has asked you to send some information that will take you about 10 minutes to locate/email about.
- @Logins – A handy place to keep auto-login links or login information for non-confidential online resources. Example: You just joined an online course that you’re excited to complete.
- @Read & Review – Do you receive eBooks, newsletters, articles, and other great information in your email inbox? Put those items here so you can review them at your leisure. Example: Your favorite author just sent you the first chapter of her book that is launching next month.
- @Someday – If you want to act on an email “someday” (because it’s really wonderful), but now is simply not the time, put it here, and it will be waiting for you. Add a calendar trigger if you want to be sure you don’t forget it. Example: You receive a notification about a new product you’d like to check out.
- @Tickler – These are emails that do not need to be handled now but are linked to a date-specific event and referenced on your calendar. Example: Your business partner emails you an agenda for Friday’s meeting. Once you’ve filed the agenda, you note on your Friday calendar to “check @Tickler for agenda.”
- @Waiting – Have you delegated something to another person and are waiting to hear back from them? Put those emails here, and you’ll check it once a week in your Weekly Review. Example: Your assistant is going to make some final edits on a document you need. You save the email exchange with all the details here.
- To Sort – A lot of the emails in your inbox will never be needed by you–now or in the future, but if you can’t quite bear to part with them, simply move them in bulk here! (We’ll talk more about this in a second.)
STEP 2: Process the First 100 Emails Using These Rules:
- Utilize the two-minute rule. Anything that can be done in two minutes or less, handle right then.
- Put “action” emails that will take longer than two minutes into @Immediate Action. This is the main thing you are going to change. Instead of working out of a cluttered inbox, you’ll be working out of a specific folder that consists of very doable email-focused tasks. If you’re worried about your emails being “out of sight, out of mind,” you may want to utilize Gmail’s Multiple Inboxes available in Gmail Labs.
- Delete and unsubscribe as much as possible. If you’re getting all kinds of updates via email about social media, search “How to turn off email notifications” (on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.).
- File the Logins, Read & Review, Someday, and Tickler emails as explained above. If any deadlines or required tasks are associated with them (especially on the Tickler emails), record them on your calendar and task list with a quick reference to the folder where the email is stored.
STEP 3: Skim the Emails from the Past 30 Days for Additional @Immediate Action Items.
We want to make sure you don’t forget to pay a bill or take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
STEP 4: Move Everything Else to the “To Sort” Folder.
Because you have already checked the top emails for action items, your mind can rest, knowing that any additional “buried” emails most likely would never have seen the light of day anyway. You’re not deleting them. You’re simply moving them to your “To Sort” folder. (And if you ever do need them, they’re always searchable.) This is a great article on how to move a lot of emails at once.
STEP 5: Keep Your Inbox at Zero.
This is going to take some work, but it’s not hard as it sounds. The main key is single-handling your emails as much as possible. When you read an email, either delete it, use the two-minute rule, or move it to one of the file folders above. Then work from your @Immediate Action folder as needed. There you go! Emails are at zero, and now you’re set up for incredible success.
Want to take your productivity to the next level?
Option #1: Attend a free live webinar! Based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done® methodology, this one-hour class, Four Unbelievably Simple Steps to Double Your Productivity, will give you instant access to powerful, actionable steps, that you can apply to your personal and professional life to become more effective right away! Click the image below for available times:
Option #2: Download this extra email bonus: We’ve prepared a totally free resource called Eight Epiphanies for Effectively Engaging with Your Email. (That’s fun to say!) In this three-page download, we’ll show you how some of the most productive people on the planet (David Allen, Julie Morgenstern, Merlin Mann, Michael Hyatt, John Lee Dumas, and more) manage their relationship with email–and we know you’ll love the results when you replicate their strategies.