2016 was a year I will never forget. It was the year I finally conquered my mound laundry. And let me tell you, for a family of six that was a huge feat!
If you aren’t sure what mound laundry is, consider yourself blessed. It’s the never ending mountain of dirty clothes that grows and grows until you decide enough is enough. If you are anything like me, you first consider throwing this horrible pile of clothes away and buying a new wardrobe, because that would certainly be easier. But then, you spend an entire weekend washing and folding—and quite possibly resenting—all the clothes until the mound has been vanquished.
It’s now 2017 and I’m ready to tackle bigger and better things. I’m ready to tackle my inbox. Working as a virtual assistant leaves me with mounds and mounds of emails, but unlike my family’s laundry, I simply can’t let it pile up for weeks.
Get to Inbox Zero
People talk about Inbox Zero, but is it really obtainable? This year I intend to find out. Who’s with me? It’s easier than you think. If you want to feel the freedom of an empty inbox, grab a cup of coffee and ask yourself these 4 simple questions. They’ll give you all the motivation you need to make the move from Inbox 3,000 to Inbox Zero. Happy sorting!
1. What is my time worth?
This season of my life is very full, and I’m sure you would say the same. I have kids to take care of, a house that needs to be tidied, dogs that need to be walked, and deadlines to meet. My time is valuable. When I sit down at my computer and open my inbox, the last thing I need is to waste my time on junk emails.
Part of the reason we’re all inundated with emails all day every day is because of the popularity and astronomical ROI of email marketing (some stats say it’s as high as 3800%). Even if you have Google apps separating out promotions into their own tab, it’s daunting to start the day with an inbox packed to the gills with clothes discounts, event invitations, and blog articles. Plus, it’s easy to get distracted sifting through them all, wasting those precious hours you need to spend focusing on your clients.
That’s why I started using Unroll.Me in an effort to get rid of the emails I really never wanted in the first place. Unroll.me collects all the subscriptions out of your inbox and lets you choose between keeping the ones you really want and unsubscribing from the ones you don’t en masse. It has significantly decreased the number of emails that I have to delete each day before I start tackling my to-do list.
Try a service like this (or, if you’re a true inbox warrior, unsubscribe by hand) to declutter your email address and get focused.
2. Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?
I heard this question asked a lot when I was growing up. My parents used it as a way to help me stop complaining and figure out a solution to a recurring problem.
The problem: you can’t keep up with your inbox. The solution: pare down your communication to emails that are only truly necessary. For me, I started to intentionally ask myself if what I was writing was essential before every email I sent. I soon realized that most of the time I can get the answer to my questions or deliver what I have to say in another way (which is usually faster!).
Our Don’t Panic team uses Sococo, a digital office space, to collaborate. Sococo gives us the ability to have a video conference, phone call, or text chat on the fly. Rather than nonstop emails to the rest of my team, most of the time I can just chat a team member and get my question answered instantly instead!
For client work, consider using a project management system for back-and-forth communication. We’re big fans of Samepage, Slack, Teamwork, and Trello. Or, if your client is more old school, phone calls and text work great! Either way, schedule a weekly check-in meeting so you have a standing open forum to collaborate, ask questions, and get more done. The more work you can get away from your email address, the better.
It may sound obvious, but it was a game-changing moment for me when I realized that if I reduce the number of emails I send out, in turn, it will reduce the number of emails I receive.
3. Is my inbox organized efficiently?
I have a confession to make. I’m not a Type A personality. There. I said it. I so badly wish I was, but I’m not, so I have had to be extra intentional about creating systems for myself that set me up to succeed.
The number of emails in your inbox doesn’t matter nearly as much as how they are organized efficiently. Once you’ve read and responded to an email, what do you do with it? Do you have a special folder for its category or correspondence? Do you delete it? Or does it just sit in your inbox, piling on top of all the other emails next to it. If this last option sounds familiar, you are probably also familiar with occasionally missing or losing an important assignment because it got buried in your inbox.
One of the most put-together people on the Don’t Panic team, Jenn Hines, put together this super helpful guide of Gmail hacks to help you get your inbox set-up in a more usable way. Or, if you’re like me and the task of organizing your inbox makes you want to pull your hair out, consider using an email management system like Sanebox. Trust me, you will thank me later!
4. What habits do I need to change?
Bad Habits. We all have them. Which is why I will oftentimes see my husband’s (okay, and my own…) dirty clothes right next to the shower when the laundry hamper is only 5 feet away.
The good news is, habits can be changed and poor routines can be broken! Even if you do get to Inbox Zero, it doesn’t do you much good if you can’t stay there. Take it from me, it doesn’t take long for one pair of dirty jeans by the shower to turn into an entire laundry mound.
If you don’t make the time to organize your inbox often, then it will never happen. Depending on your usual influx of emails, you might need to clean-up your account monthly, weekly, or (in my case) daily. Add the task of inbox organization to your recurring to-do list and make clean-up one of your workplace rituals. I tidy up my inbox at the end of every work day. And now, what once felt impossible is simply habitual. My brain feels 10 pounds lighter! 2017: my laundry hampers are empty, and now my email inbox is too.
There are two kinds of people.
There are 2 kinds of people in this world. pic.twitter.com/y8bUyrGHeo
— Eli Langer (@EliLanger) March 1, 2015
Just because you’re a 3,000-unread-emails kind of person today doesn’t mean you have to continue to be one tomorrow. With a little pep talk brought on by these four questions and the help of some awesome tools, you can be on your way to Inbox Zero in no time.