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Avoid EMail Bankruptcy with Inbox 0.5

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Gmail InboxAs someone who makes their living off the Internet, I get a lot of email every day and some days it’s very difficult to keep up. While I’ve never gotten to the point of declaring email bankruptcy, there are times when I’ve forgotten about emails because they’ve fallen off the page in Gmail. Lately, I’ve been trying to be better about it and part of that involves learning from others. Email management is a popular topic online and fortunately there are plenty of resources.

One such strategy that I am liking alot is one created by Jason Clarke called Inbox 0.5. It was inspired by Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero and the idea is actually quite simple – knock out half the unread/TBD emails in your inbox each day. You don’t have to deal with all of them, just half. If you have 700 emails, get it down to 350 before the day ends. While you will still receive email throughout the day, the goal is to get to 350. When you return the next day, that number may have crept up to 400 overnight. Get it to 200 before you leave. Repeat…

This is an effective strategy because you don’t end up feeling like you have to read and respond to them all.

Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero strategy is also a very valuable series of articles because it presents several ideas, such as an Email DMZ, that you can implement in piecemeal. The DMZ concept is simple – take all the email in your inbox and stick it into a new folder labeled DMZ. From this point forward, you will treat your inbox as a clean slate. This is the equivalent of declaring email bankruptcy without the unfortunately bankruptcy part.

Another effective strategy I’ve picked up, and I wish I knew where I read it so I could proper credit, was to ask the emailer what they wanted me to do. I get a lot of “stories” followed by a request for help. They are very detailed stories about their situation and the reality is I have no idea how I could possibly help. So I reply with that answer – “What would you like me to do?” (some version of that). The majority of the time, far more than I anticipated, there is no response and I didn’t waste my time crafting a long answer that probably wouldn’t have solved anything anyway.

Email has really taken up a large part of our day and it’s really difficult to stay on top of it. I’ll be implementing many of these strategies in the near future to help me be better with my email. If you have any valuable tips you can share, or resources worth reading, please let me know in the comments.

(Photo: wangarific)

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23 Responses to “Avoid EMail Bankruptcy with Inbox 0.5”

  1. Soccer9040 says:

    I try to keep my inbox down to a page or two. I only get 50 or so emails a day so for me its not too big of a challenge. I can’t imagine how it must look for you Jim. All the comment moderation, suggestions, BB emails, advertising, unsolicited requests, plus your normal everyday emails that we all get.

    My mom has declared email bankruptcy many times, but she doesn’t know it. She will ask me why her outlook is acting weird and I’ll log on and see 8,000 unread emails. I’ll just got to the bottom of the list and select 4,000 or so, mark them read and move them to a folder. If she ever really needs to get them, they are still there. 6 months later if I havnt heard anything, i’ll delete the folder and do it again.

    • Jim says:

      Hahaha, “she just doesn’t know it yet”… quote of the post I think.

      It’s not too bad because it’s part of my job and I enjoy it. :)

  2. Shirley says:

    I use Yahoo as my homepage with tabs (pages) for Local, News, Tech, Blogs, Health and Tools.
    On each page I use RSS feeds for sites I like to keep up with daily, rather than use email subscriptions. Settings are to keep the headline only (cursor hover brings up short summary), for the newest 5 items for the last three days.

    I can keep up with an enormous amount of info this way without having my inbox flooded. Anything I want to save is easily copy/pasted into a Word document and/or printed or sent to my email for archiving. I can browse through the titles, have an idea of what the articles are about, and pick and choose.

    My email is for friends and family and a very few subscriptions. I also keep a different email, checked only once a day, for personal finance alerts and shopping confirmations.

  3. Ryan says:

    Maybe setup multiple email accounts? It would take a lot of work initially (mostly unsubscribing to stuff then putting in new email address), and also have a separate email address for this website. Then everything is organized as opposed to everything coming into one email address.

    • Chris says:

      I have an email account that I use specificlly when I never want any communication back from someone, such as registering for certain sites that don’t invlove any kind of monetary transactions.

    • Chris says:

      I hate it when you choose the option to unsubscribe but you conitinue to recieve solicitations…

  4. lostAnnfound says:

    Gmail also has a filter that I use with labels (folders). I have a folder for X and set up the filter so when email regarding X comes in it goes right to that particular folder, skipping over the inbox. It takes a little time to set it up for all the different mail received on a regular basis, but once it is done it really streamlines taking care of my mail.

  5. echidnina says:

    Sounds like a good strategy – divide and conquer! My inbox is at about 500 now, mostly because I’m signed up for 3 or 4 daily newsletters and I rarely keep up with them. I should probably work on that…

  6. This idea assumes all e-mails are equal.

    You know that some ae very important and others are trash.

    This software does not help with that issue.

  7. zapeta says:

    Smart strategy! I know I have a hard time keeping up with email sometimes and I get far fewer than you do Jim. The strategy that keeps me organized are lots of filters and labels in Gmail so every email gets where it needs to go and the less important emails I can put off for a couple days.

  8. NateUVM says:

    Definitely need to stay on top of all the information that I have streaming in. Plenty of good strategies here, in the OP and in the posted commentary. Thanks Jim for a great topic!

  9. Peter says:

    I can relate to the “getting behind on emails” thing.. Sometimes you just have to do your best to follow up quickly and delete the rest! I also set up gmail filters to help filter out some of the ones I don’t need.

    Speaking of which – Jim, have you filtered my emails to go directly to the trash or spam? ;) jk.

    Like another commenter – my mother-in-law also is completely email bankrupt. She always calls me wondering why she is having problems with her outlook express email inbox, and when you look she has over 9000 emails in her inbox. Are you kidding me? I keep telling her that she needs to delete emails, but apparently she needs all 9000 of those emails just in case. She’s an email hoarder! :)

  10. jsbrendog says:

    after 4 years of just letting it go i finally sat down and created folders and organized everything so my inbox was 90% empty. Now,a s stuff comes in it gets read and filed appropriately. It took a hell of a lot of time to setup after so many years but now unless i blow it i should be able to maintain it no problem

    • echidnina says:

      I agree, I find folders very important to keep my inbox organized. If I’m very overwhelmed, sometimes I’ll distribute my important unread messages to the folders first, so I can get through the other stuff quickly (skim & delete).

  11. BrianC says:

    I try to respond to anything important while it’s on the first page–if it falls off I may not get to it for awhile. I do have separate addresses for personal and business, but that’s the only filtering I do.

  12. nickel says:

    That’s actually a brilliant strategy, and beats the heck out of my “triage until you hit zero, then let another couple thousand build up before acting again” strategy.

  13. javi says:

    This is a great idea. It allows you to have progress over your email queue and will only take less time as each day passes.

  14. Mike says:

    I get few enough emails that I have no trouble keeping on top of them.

    Most of them are just info from companies so very few require any work from me.

    I’ll keep this post in mind if the volume ever increases.

  15. Caitlin says:

    We’re talking about cleaning out unread email messages, right? Not just any and all in the inbox?

    I’ve never really understood the point of getting your email inbox entirely empty (especially since I use Gmail – I might feel differently if I use Thunderbird or Outlook or something). Is having emails scattered about in folders really easier than a quick scan down the page or a search? It’s not like an email inbox get messy looking like a stack of unsorted papers would.

    • echidnina says:

      I think having all your emails in one place makes it easier for single messages to get lost in the shuffle – either ignored, or read once and forgotten. I also use the folders as a way to keep stuff around that’s less pressing, but may be useful in the future – I don’t need to have all my receipts and order confirmations at my fingertips, but I feel good having them piled away in a “back corner” of my inbox.


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