Inbox: empty! Now – my 5-steps to email efficiency

About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Photo by swardraws

Two beautiful sights. First from my iMail client:


Notice the lack of a number next to ‘Inbox’? That means it’s EMPTY. No emails.

And now for GMail:


Three wonderful words.

Empty all e-mail inboxes. Check.

Now it’s time to devise a workable system that will prevent umpteen-jillion emails sitting in my in-box. I’ve read a few great articles (posted below), and I’m taking everyone’s advice and trying out Gmail as my main email client, even though it’s on the web. Their reasons convinced me it’s worth at least a shot.

I’ll give my plan a solid two weeks to see if it works. I know it’s good to give a new habit at least a month before moving on to another one, but my problem hasn’t really been email addiction. It’s been sheer laziness and busyness.

So if I see my in-box piling up after two weeks, I’ll either rework my plan, or keep at it before moving on.

Here’s my plan:

1. Don’t even read new emails unless I have the time to give them a maximum five sentence reply. Leave them unread.

2. Sit down to read emails only three times a day, 30 minutes at a time. Morning, afternoon, and evening. Close Gmail when I’m done.

3. If an email can get a five sentence or shorter reply, go ahead and respond immediately, and then either delete or archive it.

4. If it needs a longer reply, tag it as “Reply ASAP” and get to it within 24 hours. Even if it means telling the emailer “I’m really busy, but I plan to write you a response just as soon as I can. Thanks for being patient.”

5. Archive or delete all emails so that my in-box remains empty. Use tags to categorize the archived emails.

An empty in-box lessens visual stress. When there are fewer messages shouting for my attention, my devoted time to reading and responding is much more efficient. I’ve got more time to work on cleaning the kitchen, doing Pilates, or making play-doh for my kiddo.

And I’d rather spend my time doing those things.

Here are some excellent motivators to slay the email dragon:

Do you have a workable email solution for simplifying your day? I’d love to hear it.

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  1. These sound like some great ideas. I’ve tried at times to do some of them, but never stuck with them very well. I’m going to give it a go this week! Thanks for sharing. ;o)

  2. Hi Cheryl! Maybe we can keep each other accountable, eh? It’s already more challenging than I thought it would be! I mean, the system’s easy, but I find myself drawn to the computer… Why is that?

  3. Really like your ideas, especially the one with “Reply ASAP”, I might have to make one like that. I am pretty good at tagging my emails though but hadn’t thought about that one.

    Like your blog , very nice! :)

  4. Thanks Linda. A few days in to this little routine, and the “Reply ASAP” is working like a charm. In fact, I’ve got 11 emails waiting for me as I write this, and I’m hesitant to open them because I know I’ll need to “reply asap.” :) Funny how that works.

  5. I like these! Especially the “only check three times a day” bit. I am not sure if I can hold off for three times, though. maybe four or five…

    PreSchool Mama’s last blog post..How Many PreSchoolers Could You Take in a Fight?

  6. Have you checked out this?
    Brilliant: inbox zero!

    And to say: I tried toggl all day today.
    I LIKE it!

    My humble thanks,

  7. @PreschoolMama, Ann – Glad this is useful to you, ladies! I love both your blogs. Ann, I’ll have to check out 43 folders – I’ve heard of the concept, but now you’ve inspired me to actually look into it!


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