Getting My Inbox to Zero (Almost…)

I got my inbox to just one message about a week back.  (See screenshot, below, for proof.)

Amazing, isn’t it?

No, I’m not trying to brag, in spite of the fact that this is a pretty big feat for me. When I returned to work from a 12-week parental leave in September, I had more than 3,000 messages in my inbox. MORE THAN THREE THOUSAND!!! This was the result of three and a half years of indecisiveness and the absence of a system for managing my messages.

So how did I find a way to beat back this electronic tidal wave? I set up a system, and I got more decisive. (Well, sort of.)

First, I needed places to put all these messages, so I established a “cabinet” of folders having to do with every topic for which I might want to save my emails. (I’d say there are about two dozen of them.) If I needed to save an email for future reference, it went into one of my cabinet folders.

I ALSO created a folder for emails that required action. If I needed to do something with/about an email, it went here.

And then there was the indecisiveness. “I don’t think I need this email later. But what if I really do?”

To manage this fickle beast, I created one more folder: Purgatory. Purgatory is where my messages go when I’m ready to send them to the great beyond, but I want to hold onto them for a bit longer, just in case. Folders stay in purgatory for two years. On the first of each month, I delete another month’s worth of two-year-old email.

Once my system was in place, all I had to do was chip away at the messages until they were all gone. It took about 7 months to get it done, spending about 5 minutes per day during my coffee break.

Now, I treat my inbox like an answering machine: a message in there is essentially like the blinking light on my phone. I read the message and move it: to my “Action Needed” folder, to a cabinet folder, to Purgatory, or to the trash. That’s it.


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