When it comes to inbox management, there are two types of people in this world: those who are totally unfazed by a growing buildup of unread email and those who experience soul-crushing stress over it.
TED's User Experience Architect Michael McWatters is one of the many who fall into the latter category. That's why he devised a 10-step system for keeping his inbox as close to empty as possible. He recently described his methods in a post on TED's blog.
McWatters says the trick to keeping your inbox in check involves treating the management process like a good diet or exercise regimen and coming up with simple, achievable steps that you can carry out over and over again. Here are some of his most interesting suggestions:
1. Take drastic measures.
First of all, to maintain a state in which your inbox contains zero unopened messages, you need to start at this point, McWatters says. That means deleting all of your messages -- even if you haven't read them.
Next, send a generic email to anyone in your address book you deem important -- bcc’ing the group, of course! -- saying, "Hey, I just had some email issues. If you're waiting for a response from me on anything important, please let me know."
If that sounds unthinkable, McWatters recommends deleting everything older than one month and then dedicating a block of time to sort through the rest.
2. Develop a checking routine.
McWatters takes the "all day" approach to checking email. He thinks of every incoming message like a bug that needs to be squashed right away. If you know that having your head in your inbox all day will be too distracting, then create a schedule that requires you to look at it less frequently. McWatters recommends dedicating 15 minutes every four hours to do nothing but deal with your email.
3. Delete with abandon.
Every time you respond to an email, delete it. Every time you forward an email, delete it. If you receive a message that you don't care about, delete it immediately.
McWatters also points out that you have the power to be a good Samaritan by fighting the spamming of others' inboxes. "Do your co-recipients a favor: remove anyone cc'd who doesn't need to see your response. Now you're helping others keep their inboxes clean as well," he says.