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Processing and Organizing Your E-Mail in Microsoft Office Outlook 2007

Emptying the Inbox and Getting to Zero

If you still have e-mail in your Inbox, let’s see what you can do to get it to zero. (If your Inbox is empty, skip ahead to the section titled What Changes Will You Make? later in this chapter.)

We encourage you to take the time right now to get your e-mail message count to zero. You can do it! We’ve worked with people who have as many as 7,000 messages in their Inbox and they got to zero, and so we know you can.

  • We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.
  • —Rutherford Rogers

Here are three steps you can follow to help you eliminate e-mail.

  1. Identify the “shelf life” of your e-mail. It can be anywhere from one week to two months or more, depending on your role. (Legal and financial roles have strict rules with regard to how long to keep e-mail.) After a certain point, e-mail is no longer meaningful, and so there’s no point in keeping it unless it’s helpful to have as reference information. Sort your Inbox by the oldest e-mail first, and then eliminate all of the out-of-date e-mail. This can dramatically reduce your volume.

    Erasing lots of e-mail can be scary, but ask yourself, “What am I willing to let go of to get what I want?” Remember Linda from Chapter 1? She eliminated 1,991 messages in one press of the Delete key! If this makes you very nervous, create a new Archive Folder. Use the date range of filed e-mail as your folder title. Drag the old e-mail into the folder. You can always go back to it later. Meanwhile, it’s not cluttering up your Inbox.

  2. When you’ve eliminated the outdated shelf life e-mail, go through what’s left and delete Calendar notices, Inbox full notices, E-mail messages from anyone who’s left the company or moved to a different department, and project-related messages for projects that are now complete. Do whatever you can do to eliminate unwanted e-mail quickly.

  3. Identify how much e-mail you have left and calculate how long it will take you to empty your Inbox. If you have 400 messages and you can process 60 an hour, it will take you 6.6 hours to get to zero. However, you need to ask yourself whether that time is worth it. What could you do in six hours that would add more value than processing e-mail does? After you’ve answered these questions, you can choose to work through your messages or delete and archive even more e-mail, leaving only the last week’s worth of messages to process.

If you have hundreds or thousands of messages in your Inbox, processing the 60 new messages for the day won’t help you get to zero. You need to eliminate the buildup to really get on top of your e-mail. When you get to zero, you’ll be motivated to stay there because there’s nothing like a blank e-mail screen to ease your mind and put a smile on your face! Go for it!