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!
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