Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mission: Email Inbox Zero

image from Flickr
With my new job as a Digital Learning Coach working at 8 different schools this year, I'm pretty sure I'll be doing a lot of emailing. The most emails I've ever seen in my inbox was in the 500s. As I've worked with teachers I've occasionally seen email inboxes with thousands of emails - many of them unread! I've often wondered how those individuals know what important communications they might be missing!

Because I'll have so much potential email this year, I thought it would be better to start with a clean mailbox. I didn't quite reach my goal of zero, but I got down to only 36! All of these remaining emails are current conversations with teachers at my new schools.

In the Clark County School District we use FirstClass for our email system. Directions here will be for that software, but similar steps can be used in any email client. These tips can also be used to get control of your personal email inbox. Here's my list of tips that can help you take control of your email inbox.


No seriously, the best way to reduce the amount of email sitting in your inbox is to limit the amount of emails that you get. Do you subscribe to automatic emails from all your favorite stores announcing their weekly sales? We all have a tendency to check that box that asks if we'd like to receive regular updates or subscribe to the company newsletter. Take a good hard look at those emails and be honest with yourself. When was the last time you took action on one of them? Most of them come with an unsubscribe link at the bottom. Use it!

Do you use any kind of service like Edmodo that sends you email notifications every time a student posts? It's nice to know what's happening, but get in the habit of checking those services instead. You have to deal with those notifications within that application anyway.

Some of the unwanted mail is SPAM. Our district has built SPAM blockers, but some of those sneaky devils still slip through. Forward any SPAM you get to SPAM and then delete it. That helps the system recognize new SPAM. I noticed I was getting a large amount if SPAM from a particular site. So I created an email rule that automatically forwards it to SPAM and then deletes it. Now I never even see it in my mailbox!
Use mail rules to auto-delete SPAM.


Another great way to get your inbox down to zero is to either deal with the email or get rid of it. If you're planning to do anything in-between, you should have an explicit understanding of why you're doing so.

Your email is not a to-do list. If an email requires an action on your part, then move it to your actual to-do list. This will prevent you from looking in your email to see what isn't done yet. There are many to-do list managers out there. My personal favorite is Omnifocus, primarily because I subscribe to the GTD method of managing my tasks. It doesn't matter what you use, just as long as you deal with it. Then delete the email!

Sometimes you need to keep emails around for reference. Perhaps they have something like a serial number or login information. Perhaps it's an ongoing conversation you need to refer back to. Instead of leaving it in your inbox, move them to folders, or better yet, download them to your computer. To create folders in FirstClass, go to the File menu and select New then New Folder. You can then name it and move the relevant emails into it. 
You can choose whether emails appear at the top or side of your inbox and whether they are a list or icons. To do that, go to the View menu, down to Split and select either Split Horizontal or Split Vertical.

Emails with information you want to keep can also be saved to your computer as text documents. Highlight the text message and from the File menu select Save As. You can then rename it and save it to any location on your computer. Then delete the email!

These steps cannot be a one time thing either. You will have to be consistent with each of these. But if you are, you have a strong chance of getting that email down to zero!

What other tips or ideas do you have for taking control of your email inbox? Share them in the comments!


  1. Here's a one week plan for those of you with a crazy overwhelming amount of email in your inbox.
    Day One
    Put all mail in a folder called "Old Mail." Sort the old mail by sender and delete all the advertisements, newsletters, and obvious junk. Keep up with all new mail.
    Day Two
    Pick a project or two that is really important and deal with all of the mail related to those projects. Dealing with the mail means replying, making lists, and moving mail to folder with better labels so you have everything organized for quick access.
    Day Three
    Pick two or three senders that often send very important messages and deal with all of those messages from the "Old Mail" folder. Remember, you are still keeping up with all new mail that comes in.
    Day Four
    Sort all of the mail by date and deal with as many of the oldest messages as possible (try to target about 25-50% of what's in the "Old Mail" folder. The oldest messages tend to go quickly as you realize many of them are no longer relevant.
    Day Five
    With the "Old Mail" folder still sorted by date, deal with as many of the most recent messages as possible. Again try to target about 25-50% of what is still left. These ones take a bit more time as the more recent messages tend to still be relevant to your current work tasks.
    Remaining Days
    Sort those messages by either sender or subject and commit to dealing with an equal amount for the remaining days until complete.

    1. Thanks for the comment and the idea. If one has a lot of emails this is an effective way of weeding through them. The important part to remember is to still keep up with new email. I had to do a modified version of your plan to get through all my old stuff. I wished I had thought of the idea of moving them all into a folder first!