Tips to Manage E-mail in the New Year

By David Delony

If you are a knowledge worker, e-mail hosting is no doubt one of your primary business tools. And like a lot of people, your inbox is probably overflowing with messages.

If you’re looking for a fresh start in the New Year, you might want to start with some tips from Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman.

Burkeman’s first tip is to switch to Google’s Gmail for e-mail hosting, though this might not be an option for people working in business environments.

One of the most important tips is the concept of “Inbox Zero,” which was coined by Merlin Mann on his popular productivity blog 43 Folders. The concept is simple: e-mail messages should not linger in the inbox, but that e-mail hosting users should be ruthless about clearing their inboxes.

One way to deal with the avalanche of e-mail hosting messages is to create folders and labels for everything, such as important contacts. Gmail and other e-mail hosting services and clients can automatically sort incoming messages into the appropriate folders and labels.

If the situation is truly desperate, e-mail hosting users should declare what Burkeman calls “e-mail bankruptcy.”

“If you've got more than a couple of hundred e-mails in your inbox, stop pretending you'll get around to them,” he wrote. “Remember that if anything is truly urgent, the sender will get back in touch. It's time, therefore, to send all e-mails before a certain date to the archive.”

After this is accomplished, Burkeman recommends that users breathe, and possibly subscribe to a service like that automatically unsubscribes to a number of automated e-mails.

The next step is to process the remaining e-mails.

If a message is worthless, it should be deleted. If a message will need to be referred to but has no specific action attached to it, then it should be archived. If a message does require an action, a user should simply do the action or mark the action on a to-do list. The inbox itself can also be used as a to-do list.

Finally, Burkeman suggests celebrating getting the e-mail hosting inbox to zero with a party. “And maybe a prominent tattoo,” he adds. “Tell all your friends, repeatedly: they'll be thrilled for you. You are now morally superior, in all important respects, to people with overfull inboxes.”

Edited by Rich Steeves

Contributing Writer

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