For years, I’ve been using my inbox as a sort of “to do list” and it’s helped me to stay organized, and keep track of my projects, my clients, and my life! While I’d love to say I regularly “inbox zero” (meaning everything is out of your inbox), it’s pretty rare, however – i use the same principals, and have a strict system in place to help me get closer to inbox zero daily. Right now, I have about 10 emails (read) that need my attention, so they’re sitting in my inbox, and will be taken care of by the end of the week.
I’ve also started using a new email app that I’m really enjoying. After years of using Gmail web browser, I honestly needed to have fewer tabs open, so I did some research, and a friend introduced me to Newton. It’s got a really clean interface, and I’ll give you a review in another post.
Here’s how I keep my inbox stress free.
- Every morning I go through and delete any spam, duplicates, and unsubscribe to anything that I no longer want to pop into my inbox. That way once the clutter is gone, I can see how many emails I really have to pay attention to, and don’t feel so overwhelmed.
- I read everything that’s left.
- Onto replying! If it’s a message that doesn’t need replying, let’s say the person wrote back “okay cool, thanks!” then that thread is “finished”, there’s nothing required on my end, I’ll archive it* (don’t worry I’ll explain my “archiving” approach).
- Now that the wild beast that is our inbox has been tamed, I can move onto replying, and any action items. There’s no rhyme or reason to which one I pick first – usually it’s whichever I can do in the time I have, or if I have a deadline for a client, I’ll work on their email first. Anything that’s left in my inbox means it requires a response, or some action (maybe it’s a survey I need to fill out, or a recipe a friend sent that I wanted to make). After I reply, I archive* the email since I’ve already taken care of it, it doesn’t need to clutter my inbox, and when someone writes back (if needed), it’ll pop back into my inbox.
WTF IS archiving
Let me start by saying that I don’t use the “archive” button available in my mail service. I manually archive all of my emails, so that I can keep them organized.
I create a folder for every client or project. That way, if I need to go back and revisit a previous email from a client, I know exactly where to look. I have a main folder called “clients” and then within that, there are subfolders with my clients names. If it’s a client with a wide range of projects, I might create a unique folder with the project name, if I expect multiple email threads (different e-courses from the same client is a good example). I do my best to keep my emails to one thread per project – that way I can search within a thread, and don’t get overwhelmed by 12 threads to search through when I need to find something. I also use slack with a few teams I’m on, which is awesome to keep track of regular conversations, and while it’s another app, I can easily turn it off, and I’ll get a quick email (which i delete after reading) that let’s me know there’s something waiting for me in a specific channel. I have about 4 groups I’m in, so it’s nice that all of them are in one place.
I create folders for basically everything. I have one with recipes people have sent me, workouts and meal plans from my trainer (i’ve also organized them into docs in google drive). I have a folder for quotes I’ve gotten from printers (so I can compare or remember how much I paid), and my favorite folder is one called “Wise Words”. This is where I keep really great conversations I’ve had with fellow creatives, friends, family, or clients. These are the “testimonial” worthy emails, or the emails that I like to revisit when I’m feeling down. I had a conversation last week with another designer, and we discussed some shitty situations, and how to deal with them. The thread was inspiring, empowering, and I know it’ll be helpful to read again and again.
Throughout the day, when I visit my inbox, it’s a clear, concise to do list for me. Of course, not every to do list item comes through email (pick up dog food for example), so I also keep a running list on my phone that I can add to at any time, but don’t worry – I have a system for that one too.
Tell me, do you archive? Do you have a different system? As a lover of productivity, this has really turned my inbox into a clutter-free, organized to do list.