You don’t have to be Warren Buffet or Tim Cook to get hundreds of emails a day. Everyone is inundated with email. It has almost become a fact of life: wake up in the morning and they will be waiting for you in the double digits. Take a day off from work, and they will multiply into the hundreds. Take a week off for a vacation and—assuming you’re able to stay away from your smartphone that long—you could have a thousand emails clamouring for your attention.
So how do you manage email overload? Here are a few steps. These steps are designed to help you attain one simple goal: the zero unread message inbox.
Step 1: Categorize your emails into “reply” or “ignore” categories
Not every email has to be responded to. Some emails, like automated emails, need no response. Make a choice for every email. Do I respond to this, or just delete it?
Step 2: Evaluate “ignore” emails for long-term benefit
Do you really need to get those news emails every day? How about those job search emails? Or those newsletters? If you don’t see a long-term benefit, unsubscribe. Get comfortable with this. I will often subscribe to newsletters to see what a company has to offer, only to unsubscribe a few weeks later if I don’t see any value.
Step 3: Categorize “reply” emails into “immediate” or “look twice” categories
Emails that are clearly important should be responded to immediately—as in right now. Do not mark that email as unread and go back to it. Reply right then and there. Anyone who’s important enough to warrant an immediate response will appreciate your promptness. Anything else falls into the “look twice” category.
Step 4: Mark “look twice” emails as unread a single time
You only get to mark “look twice” emails as unread once, the first time you read them. The next time you read it, you have to respond immediately. You can’t mark it as unread a second time. That’s why they’re called “look twice”… because there’s no third time. Yes, you’re allowed to read the subject as many times as you want, but the moment the message becomes important enough in your mind for you to read it a second time, you have to respond.
Try these steps for a week and see how they work for you. They’re based on the idea of avoiding procrastination and being more disciplined. And when you really get down to it, the only thing that’s between you and a zero unread email inbox is discipline.