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11 Exercises for Your Email Inbox

email checkup inbox

Photo by Jam Adams

Now that you’ve deleted useless emails and unsubscribed from pointless lists, it’s time to focus on your inbox. This is email command central. If you can’t tame it, you’re sunk.

Unfortunately, you can’t just whip your inbox into shape and have it stay that way. You need to create the proper habits. It’s time for your inbox to get exercising!

1. Wait to check it. Don’t open the inbox when you first walk into work. Wait at least an hour before you dive in.

2. Process in batches. Only fire up your inbox periodically, when you’re ready to process the emails. Think of it like a series of little email sprints throughout the day. You go to the track (i.e., your inbox) to run, not just to see if it’s there.

3. Act on every email. An email only has a finite number of possible responses. When you open one, always look for the action. Don’t read any email twice, but decide an action the first time.

4. Delete, if possible. Is there any way you can delete that email? That should be your first possible action: trash it. If you get lots of trash from a sender, setup a filter to automatically delete their emails. :)

5. Respond, if quick. Can you take the necessary action in 1 or 2 minutes? (maybe even 30 seconds?) Do it now!

6. Deflect Is there any way you can delegate an email to someone else? Or can you serve it right back to the sender? All’s fair in the email war. You just have to be more cunning than the sender. ;)

7. Don’t file. Email folders are an exercise in utility. Create an “Archive” folder. After you’ve processed an email from the inbox, archive it. Search will retrieve it later, if needed.

8. Don’t label. The same goes for excessive labels. Having a “reply” or “read” label can be useful, but you don’t want to try labeling every email with a complicated labeling system.

9. Be concise. Emails aren’t novels, so limit what you type. Try the awesome 5 sentences method. Your communication will be quicker and more effective, guaranteed.

10. Get to zero. You don’t want your inbox to say you’re lazy. And you can’t leave any triage patients sitting stale in your inbox.

11. Keep fighting. As I mentioned above, this isn’t a one-time deal. Email is a constant stream of information, so you have to make it your goal to keep processing diligently. There’s nothing sweeter than an empty inbox.

Thanks for reading this Email Checkup series. If you missed the first two posts, you can view them through the links below. Don’t forget to subscribe to Legal Andrew via RSS.

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5 Responses to “11 Exercises for Your Email Inbox”

  1. Matthew Cornell
    December 28th, 2007

    Thanks for the helpful tips, Andrew. A nice collection. And thank you for the link!

  2. C Scott
    December 28th, 2007

    This is a great series Andrew. Thanks for posting it. Happy New Year!


  3. Andrew Flusche
    December 28th, 2007

    Hey guys! I’m glad you enjoyed this post and the series. I hope it helped remind you of some good email habits.

  4. Adam
    January 1st, 2008

    Some great tips to keep email from running your life. IM is even worse, though.

  5. Andrew Flusche
    January 1st, 2008


    IM can definitely be a horrid distraction. But most people are able to either logoff when they need to concentrate or just do without IM. It’s really hard to be that disciplined with email, at least for me.

    Thanks for commenting!

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