Managing emails continues to be a burdensome daily activity for many. It can quickly get out of control, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Eliminate the stress by maintaining a zero inbox. Here are a few tips.

Delete ruthlessly

No, you won’t get to that somewhat interesting but less than critical email. Delete it. Replied to an email? Delete it from your inbox. Have an attachment that you don’t want to lose? Save it to Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs or a folder on your hard drive, then delete the email.

Have less than five folders

Remember the old days when we created a folder for every possible topic and person? Good intentions, sure, but let’s face it, emails went there to die. Power search capabilities have made that practice unnecessary. Instead create four folders:

  • Archive – for those emails that you just can’t ruthlessly delete.
  • Backburner – for interesting emails that you may work on later. Set aside an hour every other week to check this folder, work on items, and bulk delete no-longer-relevant emails. The important thing is that you get them out of your inbox.
  • Read Later – for emails that don’t require your immediate attention. Set aside one day a week to check this folder and respond to emails.
  • Waiting for – when you send or reply to an email and need a response to move forward, put the email in this folder. Check it once a week or every other week and send reminders.

Keep replies under 5 sentences

Long emails beget long emails which sit in your inbox because you feel you have to respond in kind. Sure some emails will require a bit more detail, but keep those to a minimum. If an email or reply is growing beyond five sentences, chop.

Create a spam account

Don’t sign-up for offers, register for webinars, or subscribe to newsletters and magazines using your work or primary personal email account; get a spam account for that.

I use my decade old Hotmail account – now Outlook.com – for this. I hop in once a week, pay my bills and bulk delete the rest. This goes a long way in keeping my primary email accounts free of daily spam and less important emails.

Getting to zero inbox is a commitment and you may not always get there, but try to get it to under 10 by the end of the week. I try to practice this daily, but when I inevitably miss a day or two, I catch up on Fridays, spending an hour or more if necessary whittling down my inbox. It sure makes for a more enjoyable weekend.

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