Feeling a little, overwhelmed? Perhaps your inboxes are filling up and you’re wondering how to get them to zero every day – or at least on a regular basis. Here are some strategies to empty your inboxes, stay productive, and lower your stress.
It’s just as important to regularly empty your inboxes as it is to stick to a budget. After all, many of the things that go in your inboxes directly affect your budget such as receipts and bills. Let’s explore why our inboxes can sometimes fill up and what we can do about it.
Why Your Inboxes Fill Up
There are several reasons why your inboxes (email, desk, mailbox, voicemail, and more) fill up and cause you stress:
1. You don’t want to know what’s in your inboxes.
Perhaps you suspect that the voicemail on your cellphone is from a debt collector. Or maybe you know the credit card bill for the flat screen just arrived and if you hide it under some junk mail, it just might go away. But you and I both know it won’t go away. The challenges you don’t want to confront today will be waiting for you tomorrow.
2. You have too much stuff coming your way.
Did anyone say, “email?” If you’ve signed up for more online store accounts than you can count on both hands, perhaps it’s time to unsubscribe as you receive the promotional emails.
Finally, make sure you haven’t overcommitted yourself. You might have to consistently check yourself on this, I know I do!
3. You don’t have a system in place for clearing out your inboxes.
Even if you’re not purposefully avoiding your inboxes and don’t have too much stuff coming your way, you might find them filling up anyway because you don’t have a system in place to empty them regularly.
How to Get Your Inboxes to Zero Every Day
Okay, so what is this system? How can you systematically make sure your inboxes are cleared every day, or at least on a regular basis? If you read carefully, you’ll recognize I’ve already provided some of those tips above. But here are some of the most important pointers.
1. Funnel everything into as few inboxes as possible.
I have five email addresses. You might not have that many, but if you have a few, try forwarding all of your email to one account – it’ll save you a lot of time and melt away some of the stress you’re feeling.
Be sure to have one desk inbox for everything physical (like mail, notes, and even trinkets that need to be fixed). If something won’t fit into your inbox, either your box needs to be bigger, or you need to write a note representing the task and toss it in your inbox.
You might even want to start a virtual inbox, perhaps a folder on your computer in which you put anything that needs to be processed.
Remember: The more inboxes you have, the more likely you are to forget about one, get overwhelmed, and find yourself back in a rut.
2. Commit to emptying your inboxes every day, or as frequently as possible.
While it’s nice to mentally commit to do this, you’re probably going to need a reminder system to get started. Put a sticky note on your desk, computer, or other frequented location asking, “Have you cleaned out your inboxes today?” You need something to prompt you to clean out your inboxes – don’t think you can just wing it and change overnight.
If you can’t clean out your inboxes every day, commit to certain days of the week. Perhaps Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays work best for you. Whatever the case, most people need to clean them out more than once a week to feel productive.
3. Act, delegate, or postpone your tasks.
As you go through your inboxes, there are three things you can do with your emails, bills, notes, and other items . . . .
The first thing you can do is act on the task. You should act on the task if possible in the moment. For example, if it’s a bill, go ahead and pay it if you have the funds.
The second thing you can do is delegate the task. If you get an email that you feel is within the scope of your employee’s work, send it to them! It’ll save you time.
The third thing you can do is postpone the task. There are some tasks that take a long time to complete. If that’s the case, and you can’t delegate it, postpone it and move it along in your system. Don’t keep things in your inboxes because you haven’t completed them yet! Think of your inboxes as sorting stations, not a filing or resource center.
Be careful that as you process the contents of your inboxes, you don’t skip around. If you find yourself avoiding a certain piece of mail, you might find it “sticking” to your inbox and eventually you’ll be buried again.
You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. – Abraham Lincoln
Helpful Tools and Resources
There are so many tools and resources that will help you get your inbox to zero, but here are a few I’ve found particularly helpful:
- Things – A complete task management program you can use on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad. You can set a daily reminder for you to process your inboxes, along with anything else you need to get done. You can read a review of Things to learn more.
- Manilla – This will help you get rid of bill clutter and help remind you to pay your bills. Best of all, it’s free! Take a look at a review of Manilla to learn more.
- The FTC on Unsolicited Communication – A fantastic article showing you where you can stop unsolicited mail, phone calls, and email.
How do you get your inboxes to zero? Do you get them to zero every day? Leave a comment and let us know!