“Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things” – so says the patron saint of organisation, Marie Kondo, in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
We’ve been hearing a lot about getting organised this past couple of years, thanks in large part to Kondo and her KonMari method. The general thought process is that a tidy home equals a tidy mind. And if that’s true, then a tidy inbox must also equal a tidy mind – or at least some sort of enhanced state of being, right?
In that spirit, we asked ourselves: is it possible to achieve the holy grail of email organisation – Inbox Zero – each day without going, well, insane? After all, there is something outright jarring about the little red circle that sits above your inbox app reading, with absolutely no apologies, 10,389. It almost feels as though your inbox is naming and shaming you, outing you to the world.
For answers, we turned to professional organiser, Beth Penn. Penn is the founder of Bneato Bar, a company dedicated to “kicking clutter to the kerb,” and the author of The Little Book of Tidying. And according to Penn, the aforementioned Marie Kondo actions – “discarding and deciding where to store things” – are easily applied to your inbox. Ahead, she gives us the lowdown on the best ways to organise your emails, once and for all.
Use the archive button freely.
“Email can get out of control real quick if you don’t have a system to deal with it,” says Penn. “Lucky for you, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple is best.” If your inbox is drowning in emails, Penn recommends utilising the archive button freely. This way, the email is still organised within the system, but your inbox isn’t overflowing. “Your search [bar] has come a long way, so if you need [the email] again, you’ll be able to find it.”
Check your email twice a day – and make instant decisions when you do.
“Most folks dip back into their emails all day long,” says Penn. “Because there are to-dos tied up in their inboxes.” Unfortunately, every time you interrupt what you’re doing to check your inbox, your productivity takes a hit. To conquer this problem, Penn recommends carving out two time-slots in your calendar – ideally, at either end of your day – and ignoring your inbox outside those times. If you do currently keep to-do items in your inbox, Penn says you should transfer them “to your task list, where you can actually prioritise them.”
Say yes to folders – but limit yourself.
Folders can be useful for grouping particular emails together, but to stay organised, Penn suggests limiting the number of folders you use. “Make them active, so you can have a holding zone for emails that will take longer to follow-up on,” says Penn. “You [could] also create a file for pending items and stuff you want to read. But these should not be seen as new inboxes to clutter.” Au contraire! Remember to freely use the archive button for any email that doesn’t require further work or thought. If you’re going to use folders, “you must process [them] daily and keep them as slim as possible – otherwise, you’ll be right back where you started.”
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