Getting over email overwhelm – Part 2

Getting Over Email Overwhelm

Dealing with e-mail has become a constant struggle for many people; there are too many of them, we never get on top of dealing with them, the inbox is constantly full and they continue to arrive like swarms of angry wasps’ intent on diverting, distracting and creating stress in our already too busy lives. It needn’t be like this.

Getting over email overwhelm is a five part blog series  in which you’ll learn the exact steps you can take to gain control of your inbox and start making email work for you rather than against you.

Ready to continue?

Part 2: Project Inbox Zero

Hopefully you have read Getting over email overwhelm part 1 – Who’s in control? And have now set (and are sticking to) an email checking and responding schedule. It can be very liberating to know that you don’t have to be at the beck and call of your electronic messages!

Of course, they’re still there. Waiting, lurking and for some, that alone is pretty stressful. The ideal situation for these individuals – and maybe for you, too – is a little email boot camp, otherwise known as “Project inbox zero.”

The goal with project inbox zero is to end each day by completely clearing out your email inbox. That means when you turn off your computer for the day, you will have no emails that have not been read and dealt with, everything is done, delegated, or scheduled for another day.

You can see how stress-free this will make your non-work time, just knowing that there’s nothing left undone.

But How Do You Get There?

Well, if you’re starting with a massively cluttered inbox, getting to inbox zero might mean simply picking a date and deleting everything prior to it. Let’s face it, if you haven’t read the 6,345 messages by now, are you *really* going to find time to read them later? The Answer your looking for is ‘No’.

If you simply can’t bring yourself to delete everything, though, try this: Create a folder and label it with a date three months from now. File all your old messages in that folder. If you need them, they’re there. However, if the date on the folder rolls around and you haven’t looked inside, delete it.

Now what about what’s left? These are recent emails, so they may have some value. Chances are you have a mix of emails from friends or colleagues that you never responded to, notes about sales you meant to check out, things you want to read, and stuff you need to do.

Your New Folder Structure

Make four folders and label them as follows:

  • @To Do
  • @To Respond to
  • @To Read
  • @Waiting for a response

The reason for labeling them with the ‘@’ symbol is to ensure that these folders are automatically filed above the other folders inbox file structure. You can then make a number of files for archiving and keeping messages for future reference,

  • 0 Project A
  • 1 Project B
  • 2 Project C

These folders should be numbered starting at ‘0’ as these will automatically be placed under the folders shown above

File your emails accordingly. Now during your allotted email time (discussed in part 1) you can first respond to any new and urgent emails, and file the rest. In the time you have left (and you might need to allow more time for this in the beginning, just to get caught up) you can start working your way through the folders. Add to-do items to your planner or to-do list, respond to emails that require attention, check out those sales, and catch up on your reading.

A few days of this, and you will truly achieve “inbox zero.” Now you just have to maintain it. We’ll talk more about that in Getting over email overwhelm part 3 – Handling Multiple Email Addresses.

Till Next Time

The Time Doctor – Mike Gardner


The Time Doctor

The Time Doctor helps the overworked and overwhelmed learn to say 'No' nicely, and improve their management of time, emails and meetings. He is also an avid fan of Aston Villa, a Dad of Neil & Emma, a hubby to Wendy and in his role with the reserve forces, he has completed operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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8 comments on “Getting over email overwhelm – Part 2

  1. Arwen on said:

    Great thoughts on how to manage the flood. I am called the Filter Queen by my co-workers. All of the known emails coming into my inbox get routed into folders. What’s not routed is dealt with. I don’t open an email unless I’m going to respond to it or delete it right then.

  2. Chris Towndrow on said:

    Keeping the Inbox low is a constant battle – sometimes I catch myself letting it get beyond 20 or so and the worse it gets the harder it is to know where I am up to with everything. I think I have a way to go to get to a ‘zero’ mentality.

  3. The Great Gordino on said:

    I can relate to a lot of this – I need some tips to help with emails, so am reading this with intention to act on the steps.
    Thanks for the nudge!

  4. Great post! I’m going to implement the folders you shared now!

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