I remember when e-mail was a useful tool that helped me keep in touch with family and friends, and was invaluable to running a small business from home.

Today it seems that it’s practically all noise… with more e-mail hitting my inbox every day, but very little of any value among the notifications, never-read newsletters and of course a ceaseless tide of Spam.

To be fair, GMail does a fantastic job of filtering out the latter… my inbox is generally clogged with mail I have, at one time or another, actually asked for… but that doesn’t change the fact that it is, in fact clogged.

Fed up with wading through what was mostly dross, I took a radical step recently that has revolutionised my e-mail workflow and productivity.

Organise your inbox

The golden e-mail rule: there is very little of import in your inbox

The biggest thing to realise about your inbox is that, for the most part, it’s full of stuff that you don’t actually need to read. A quick scan of the sender and subject line is usually enough to pick out any replies to your own mail and anything new that need your attention… the others…

Well, if your inbox is anything like mine most of them will be notifications from Twitter, Facebook and linkedin, or newsletters from companies that you gave your e-mail address aeons ago to download a white-paper that you never read. They’re in the “take it or leave it” category… and for the most part you can happily ignore them. They’ll still be there tomorrow if you really want to wade through them.

Select all… mark as read: my new e-mail workflow

With that in mind I recently changed my e-mail workflow… and it’s revolutionised how I manage my inbox.

Here’s how it goes (this relates to my Gmail account, which I use to aggregate my e-mail from multiple addresses – it may need some tweaking for your own e-mail client of choice:

  1. Scan new messages quickly…
  2. Label (tag) any that need urgent attention with “To-Do”, and any that need reading later with “To-Read”
  3. “Select All” messages in the inbox
  4. Click on “Mark as read”

Hey presto… a clear inbox, and a clear mind that can focus more productively on work without the spectre of unread e-mail haunting it.

Give it a try… you might be surprised by just how liberating it is!

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