I almost got to inbox zero

As regards email I am a filer (I have kept almost all emails that I received and sent since I started using email almost twenty years ago, and it is all sorted in folders in one way or the other). I was told by our IT department that I am one of the employees with the largest Exchange mailboxes and that they were unhappy about it (3.5 GB in four years; personal emails stored separately, ca. 2 GB without attachments in 18 years).

I could not live as a piler (have verything in your inbox or in a small number of folders and rely on search only to retrieve emails). My wife keeps 4,000 mails in her inbox and gets along with it. I could not do that.

I have never understood deleters (those that delete their emails after they have read/written them). For me, email is more like a letter (that you keep) than a phone call (that you do not record unless you work in a business that is obliged by law to keep records also of voice communication). I do not keep text messages on my mobile phone. I have started to delete newsletters that I am unlikely to use in the future, but I would not feel well deleting emails that I could potentially need to retrieve on a future occasion. And I had several occasions in the past where I found emails that I was glad to have archived.

As most of my written communication today is done by email, I tend to use my inbox (and outbox) as a to-do list. There are people advocating against it, but it works for me. To arrive at an empty inbox, though, I cheat.

To clear out my inbox and still have a to-do list, I have several sub-folders in my inbox for emails that I need to follow up on. These are folders for „requires an action, but not right now“, „current important project/task“, „things to do that are important, but not urgent“, „stuff to read when I have time“.

  • I answer emails right away or file them for archiving after I have read them or for further processing. My inbox only shows emails I want to address on the same day.
  •  Emails that require an action can be dealt with in an „email time slot“. Sometimes multiple emails arrive on a topic, so processing becomes easier by handling all those similar emails in a batch.
  • Emails pertaining to a current project can be dealt with whenever I have allocated time to that project. After I have processed them, I file them away in the project’s archive folder.
  • Emails related to important non-urgent matters are often notes for research topics, process improvements, homepage updates etc. I could use Outlook’s „Notes“ feature, but it is easier to just write an email as a note to myself.
  • Emails with items I want to read at some time are stored in a folder that receives newsletters, conference programmes, links etc. I currently have about 900 mails in that folder, ranging from 2009 to 2014. I usually go back to that folder when I am on travel and have a small amount of time that is just right for reading (and then deleting) a couple of those emails.

At the end of the day, I review the emails that are left, and usually move all of the emails in my inbox to one of the sub-folders.

About Author: Hanno Langweg

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