Use Your Inbox the Right Way


If your inbox is the bane of your existence, you're not using it right.

Through years of refining, I've developed a system to make email organization a friend, not a foe. As opposed to scribbling down tasks on a piece of paper that'll be inevitably lost, my inbox acts as a reminder of everything on my plate. The ultimate to-do list. My bestie, if you will.

Few things make my skin crawl more than an inbox chock full of unread emails. "But it's just spam!" I'll hear people say. Well if it's spam, get rid of it. Subscribe to and call it a day. You wouldn't leave six-week old leftovers in your fridge. Treat your inbox with the same respect.

My system is simple.

Here's the premise: get your inbox to zero before bed. That's the end-all goal. Sometimes this doesn't happen. Most of the time it should.

When you have a task to do, email yourself the details. Force it to be in your inbox until it's been dealt with. Give yourself the same panicky feeling you get when a client asks you why something hasn't been completed. When you've replied to an email, archive or folder it immediately. Move that reminder out of your sight. That's your reward for getting shit done: a pristine inbox free of any reminders about looming tasks. It's a great feeling.

Gmail users, listen up.

Google Labs has developed a fantastic Shortcut under settings; it automatically archives any email after you replied. One less click can make all the difference.

Schedule your emails.

I'm often tackling my final email responses at weird times in accordance with this system. You'll likely do the same. I never want clients to know that I'm slaving away my Saturday night, so I use Boomerang. This Gmail plug-in manages expectations by sending emails at a scheduled time of your choice. Even though I'm physically replying at 3AM on Sunday, the client will receive my message on Monday at 6AM. Not only does the manage client expectations (expecting weekend work from yours truly - not in my world), but it makes me seem like a morning person.

Most of us are very busy. It can be tough to tame the beast when you're getting 500 emails a day. And understandably, you don't want to waste billable hours organizing your inbox. I understand. But make sure you read everything that comes in, even if you aren't fully paying attention.

Scan to make sure that:

1. Whoever's paying you is happy. Let's be honest, they matter most.

2. There are no emergencies. You wouldn't want to ignore those.

Once you've got those two things taken care of, you can address the other normal emails at your earliest convenience.

So that's my inbox management strategy. What's yours? Let me know in the comments below. If you give my system a shot, I'd love to hear how it goes.