Call me what you like: obsessive compulsive, completely crazy… I don’t care! I just hate seeing a messy inbox. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves in life. Seriously, it drives me nuts. By contrast, I absolutely love having a nice, clean, empty inbox. When I hop onto my Gmail account, and see that empty inbox, it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
For the most part, the target of achieving an empty inbox is one I manage to hit regularly. That’s saying something, because I get a lot of emails: I average around 30-40 per day, and over a weekend I can get 100 or more. I’m definitely not unique in that respect: as real estate appraisers, constant communication and availability is part of our job.
As most of you know, I regularly mentor other people as part of my role as The Appraiser Coach. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve glanced at my mentee’s laptop or phone screen, and seen an inbox that’s full to bursting. Now that makes me crazy in itself, as I’ve mentioned, but aside from that personal quirk it’s simply bad practice.
An inbox packed with unanswered emails hangs over you like a dark cloud. It’s almost impossible to relax in the evenings or at the weekends, because you’ve always got that nagging weight on your shoulder: that response that really needs to be sent, but you haven’t got around to yet. The same thing happens at work. Numerous studies have shown that when you have a backlog of emails you haven’t addressed, you’re actually less effective at the task you’re trying to concentrate on (completely unrelated to email). That nagging weight simply never leaves you alone.
You need a system in place to keep your inbox clear, and keep that weight off your shoulders. I’m going to share my own, personal system with you today, but if that doesn’t appeal to you then please find one that does.
Before you can actually implement a system, you need a clean inbox to begin with. If you’re like my beloved wife, for example, there could be literally thousands of emails cluttering up your inbox. Don’t mess around here: simply select all of them, and hit that “Delete” button. Put your sentimentality aside, and enjoy the fresh start. Yep, I meant what I just said. Otherwise, you will never get it done.
With that accomplished, you can begin the process of maintaining an empty inbox. That all starts with checking your emails regularly. Note that I said “regularly”, not “incessantly”. Set a regular schedule for checking your inbox – every hour, four times per day, or in between other tasks (my favorite method), for example – and stick to it. Constantly checking your emails, or failing to turn off the alerts you get when you receive a new message, is a sure-fire way to ruin your concentration throughout the day.
The second part of my process revolves around how long it takes to sort out your inbox. Let’s say you check your emails, and have five new messages. Immediately get rid of any spam (and I mean actually unsubscribe from it, don’t just delete it). After that, quickly scan the other emails and identify the ones – perhaps from the subject line, or a brief look at the contents – that you don’t actually need to respond to. Delete those too.
Now you’ll be left with messages that require a response. I have a 3-to-5 minute rule when it comes to these: if I think I can reply to those messages in 3-5 minutes, I’ll do so there and then. I’d estimate that this applies to at least 90% of my emails.
If a response would take longer than 5 minutes, put it into a separate folder. Once per week, allocate some time in your schedule to responding to these trickier emails. I call my folder “Monday”, for example, because I make replying to these messages a task every Monday. When I come to it, I usually have 10-15 emails waiting for me there, and going through them takes about an hour.
That’s about it! My method is nothing revolutionary, but guess what? It works. Follow it – or devise your own process – and with a regularly empty inbox you’ll quickly find your productivity levels increasing, while your stress levels go in the opposite direction.
For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode 070 – Empty Inboxes.