How to Achieve (and Maintain) Inbox Zero

5 Key learnings from my quest for E-mail Nirvana

1) 4 D Rule
Do. Defer. Delegate. Delete.

2) Minimize your folders
Only need three: 1-In Progress. 2-Waiting. 3-Done.
Don’t waste time endlessly filing and organizing your email. Only permit yourself 3 primary folders. You can always go back and organize items you want to archive in the “done” folder as time permits later. (In truth, I rarely do this anymore. I usually find that the Search function is the quickest way to locate the item I need.)

3) Use rules liberally
Automatically categorize your emails with colors. One color for your boss, for example. Or another color for any email with the word “twitter” in it. (This is ACTUALLY one of my rules.) Set up rules to filter emails as they come in. File regularly expected emails, such as those from listservs or newsgroups, to be read at your leisure – this keeps the “cream” of personal emails rising to the top of your inbox.

4) Get what you give.
Send the kind of emails you would like to receive. As in life, there are always those people who like to get the last word in. If you are one of these of people – take heed – I’m not playing your game! I have too many emails in my inbox to enjoy superfluous “thank yous” and “your welcomes” and “got its!” Before hitting send, read the prospective email again. Does it add to the conversation? Is it needed? If not, reconsider.

5) Keep it brief.
Since it is the era of instant communication and instant gratification, no one, it seems, has time to read long letters anymore. Status updates, news feeds, and the pace of life in general has killed the modern reader’s ability to comprehend anything past the first 140 characters. (Are you still reading this?) If you do write a long-winded email, expect to repeat yourself because no one will have read it in the first place. If your message is too long to read on my cell phone, I probably won’t have the time or the patience to read it.

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