The only two rules you need to make your inbox work for you (rather than obliterate your day)

  1. Ringfence inbox time in your calendar and only check your emails during that time. AND then protect the slot, and don’t allow anyone to book it.

  2. Empty your inbox every single day.

Sounds really tricky, right? But - it really isn’t - you just have to be methodical. And here’s how:

One

Ringfence inbox time in your calendar and only check your emails during that time. AND then protect the slot, and don’t allow anyone to book it.

This will allow you to focus on other tasks, rather than inefficiently moving from email to activity and back again. Most people find 30-60 minutes each day is sufficient to clear their inbox.

  • You may worry, whatever the frequency of your inbox sessions, that you cannot respond to urgent emails.

  • Use an out of office message, stating that you only check your inbox x times a day, and that any urgent messages can reach you via your PA/ team member/ your mobile phone/ use IM.

  • This reassures you and your colleagues that you can be reached, and manages expectations.

  • Some find an inbox session before they leave in the evening means that they don’t fret overnight, and arrive the next morning feeling on top of their work.

 

There are lots of good arguments for not checking your email first thing:

  • It distracts you from work you should be prioritising.

  • It makes you reactive, rather than proactive, creating a todo list – but not one which you created. You are likely to start acting on work which other people have generated, and lose control of your day.

  • It builds expectation that you will respond first thing.

Two

Empty your inbox every single day. To those who have traditionally had a bulging inbox, this sounds impossible.

But by applying the two minute rule (first proposed by David Allen in Getting Things Done) and the principle of “touching it once” it can be achieved:

  • David Allen’s two minute rule says: “If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it.”

  • Similarly, the touching it once rule says: whenever you get an incoming task in front of you, you decide right away what to do with it.

Applying it to your inbox means that in each scheduled inbox session you simply review each email. It will either:

  1. Be able to be dealt with in 2 minutes. So deal with it there and then. (Note – two minutes is shorter than many people realise – so you might want to put a timer on your phone until you are practiced at mastering this).

  2. Require action. Put it in the Action folder.

  3. Be awaiting action from someone else. Put it in the Waiting folder.

  4. Be important to read. Put it in the Reading folder.

  5. Need to be filed. File it.

And that’s it.

 

Sara Allen