3 simple steps to empty your inbox today

Let's face it: after years of evolution of the communication tools, we are still overloaded by the good old email. The volume of messages we exchange everyday is overwhelming. And most inboxes, even when used as to-do tools, are a never-ending list of some important messages lost in the middle of a lot of noise.


According to a study from Dr. Ian M. Paul, email overload can cost people lots of time, and companies millions of dollars. And this was back in 2009/2010 — imagine nowadays!

Can you imagine how much of your precious time you could save if you were just in control of your inbox?

But how?

Well, you guessed it right: there is a simple way to get control of your inbox — it worked for me, and it can work for you too. And believe me: reading the the sign below is extremely liberating!


Step 1: prepare

First, create three tags (or folders):

  • _ActionRequired
  • _Waiting
  • _ReadItLater

Note: It's very important to use the "_" so the tags are listed before everything else.

Step 2: organize

Now, it's time to stretch and tackle the inbox. Beginning on the top of the list, open the first message and decide what to do:

  • If you need to take some action, tag it as "_ActionRequired".
  • If it's something that is waiting a response or an action from somebody else, tag it as "_Waiting".
  • If it's something you want to read, tag it as "_ReadItLater".
  • If it's not important anymore, either archive or delete it.

After deciding what to do with the email, remove it from your inbox.

Now repeat this process for each message on the top of the list until your inbox is empty (yes, you read it right: empty!).

Hints for this step:

  • Don't get tempted to act, or read, or think about an email when you open it. Even if it's just a quick response, mark it for a later action.
  • Be aware of getting distracted by other thoughts. If it happens, bring back your focus to the decision task.
  • Always pick the first message of the inbox, and don't get tempted to skip any of them — regardless of how boring or unimportant it is.

Step 3: act

Set the right context to either do, check, or read things. Then use the tags to filter shortlists of emails for each.

Go to your "_ActionRequired" list, and focus on those things that need your action.

When you took the action, remove it from “_ActionRequired”. You can also tag it as “_Waiting”, if the next step is now depending on someone, or just archive it for good.

Set time on your calendar to go through the "_ReadItLater" list. Being fully present to the reading will help you absorb the information much better.

Periodically scan the “_Waiting” list to recall open matters and ask for updates.


Further steps to be more productive

Now that you cleaned your inbox, turn this process into a habit.

For each email you receive, decide what to do, and then do it. You can set specific times on your calendar to check your inbox, go through required actions, check the waiting list, and read something interesting.

Finally, as the picture above, please enjoy your day!


The steps above are inspired on GTD, from David Allen. If you want to go even further on being more productive and organizing your life, GTD is a very powerful method for it.

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