Hello, my name is Lindsey, and I am an email hoarder. At least, I was in the past. With each new email account (personal, school, work) I opened, my inbox would balloon. A few emails would turn into a few hundred, eventually snowballing into a few thousand. I started missing emails and losing track of requests. Introducing a smartphone into the equation didn’t help—I just started reading emails and forgetting to respond when I returned to the office. My story is not uncommon. I see it happen to my colleagues and clients every day. I look at their inbox and see 1,200 unread messages sitting among 8,000 inbox messages. It’s no surprise that they often can’t find my emails.
When I started working at Corner Alliance, I realized I had to change my approach to email. So, I instituted a new rule: never let your inbox house more than 100 messages. I didn’t want this to be a fleeting idea, so I established guidelines to help me stick to the rule:
- Create a comprehensive email filing system. One of my original problems was that I didn’t think through my email folder structure before I started building. The result? I ended up with hundreds of random, unconnected folders. Now, I bucket my emails into folders based on my primary tasks (e.g., Editing, Social Media, Conferences & Exhibits). These folders house sub-folders that filter information further (e.g., project name, month, event). I also decided to use the same folder names for my desktop and email folders to ensure that information and related conversations are categorized the same way. Now, when I’m trying to find a specific message, it takes me seconds, not minutes or hours, to locate the information.
- Set aside 15 minutes every week to review your inbox. It’s easy for your inbox to balloon if you don’t regularly monitor it. Consider setting up a recurring meeting invite on your calendar so you have a regular reminder. You can also treat email maintenance as one of your daily tasks, like submitting your timesheet. Now, when I enter my hours, I also make a point of cleaning up my inbox.
- Delete emails that are no longer relevant or needed. The carbon copy, or cc, line may be your inbox’s ultimate enemy. A lot of times we receive emails for situational awareness, not action. You’d be shocked by how many of these emails can be deleted after a few days. If you follow guideline #2, you’ll ensure these emails are acknowledged and then removed before they can clog up your inbox.
- Once you respond to an email or complete a task, file or delete the email. And vice versa, do not file or delete an email unless you have responded to it or completed the associated task. This guideline will make you a more responsive communicator and more proactive.
It may be simple, but the “100 email” rule has transformed the way I work. More importantly, it has reduced my work stress. I no longer feel like I’m drowning in requests, tasks, and information. I have control of my work, not the other way around. Try it out and see how it can change your work.