Dealing with all the messages in your inbox can feel like battling the Goliath – impossible to win.

Just when you think it’s under control, you’re besieged with a barrage of new e-mails.  And so Inbox Zero – an Inbox with no messages – remains an illusion.

That’s why I let go of the Inbox Zero idea. Besides, having to get rid of new e-mails creates unnecessary anxiety for me and distracts me from the actions I need to take in relation to these messages.

Instead, I make sure that my inbox is processed, where I’ve taken the appropriate action on every single message.

If that’s your goal as well, let’s look at how you can achieve it.

Your Inbox Processing System

It might take a bit of experimenting, but start with the recommendations below and you’ll quickly come up with a routine that feels natural to you and gets you the results you need.

STEP 1: Open your inbox.

STEP 2: Quickly scan unread messages and immediately delete ones you definitely don’t need.

STEP 3: Process the rest of your messages.

Your goal should be to open your e-mail and take action on it. Tweet it!

Opening an e-mail, reading it, and closing it back up is unproductive.

Besides, as you start thinking about your reply after you’ve closed the e-mail, your mind might tricks on you and make you think that you’ve already answered to them. You might rediscover this message much later and realize that you never responded (other than in your head) and feel bad or even lose out on a potential opportunity.

Take action as you read your remaining emails.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Delete emails that don’t need a reply.
  • Quickly reply to emails that are interesting but not urgent and ask the sender to follow-up with you at a later date. Then delete the message.
  • Quickly reply to and then delete or archive conversational messages.
  • Reply, save, and add action steps (in your calendar or task/project management software) to emails that contain important requests and/or deadlines.

If you don’t have time to reply to a certain message right away, mark the message to come back to it later. Gmail allows you to add colorful stars and other icons to mark messages. Pick a system and stick with it, so you don’t have to think about what your color coding means; you can just act on it.

You could also move these messages to a special “Come Back To It Later” folder.

However, don’t forget that you will have to build time into your schedule to actually come back to these messages.

Consider using tools to remind you about this kind of message. Boomerang for Gmail or are fabulous services that allow you to have these e-mails sent back to you later. All you need to do is specify when you want to see that e-mail again.

Move emails that are really worth saving or that you might need to reference into an “Info to Keep” folder.

If you use Evernote, this message can be forwarded into Evernote and assigned.

STEP 4: Close your inbox and move on to the next task.

Experiment with this clear-cut strategy until you have created a personal approach for processing your inbox because otherwise you’ll just get sucked back into the e-mail vortex.

Keep your Inbox processed.  It will allow you to honor where your time and attention truly need to go.

Back To You

How do you deal with your e-mails?  Do you have tricks of your own?  What routines work for you?

Tell me about it!