The Buck Stops Here: Take Back Your Inbox

Apps and tools to help you organize your inbox are a dime a dozen, but when you’re looking for a fail-proof option, a tried-and-tested system is the way to go. These email strategies can help you sort out your incoming messages to see if they’re destined for your to-do list or your trash folder.

The Two Minute Rule

Time management and productivity expert David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done, which includes the two-minute rule technique: If you can reply to the email in two minutes, go ahead and write that email. If not, delegate the email to someone else, delete, or file accordingly. 

Inbox Zero

Created by Merlin Mann and inspired by David Allen’s Getting Things Done method, Inbox Zero is all about managing how you deal with your inbox. Instead of just looking at your email, you take action quickly, leaving more time to work on what’s important—in both your life and your business. With each email, choose to do one of five actions: 

  • Delete or archive as many emails as possible, assuming you don’t need them.
  • Delegate the task in the email to someone else.
  • Respond if it only takes a few minutes.
  • Defer and respond later, when you have more time.
  • Do the task the email asks you to do.

Do these five actions every time you check your email and you’ll be able to get your inbox organized—and keep it that way. 

The Trusted Trio

Lifehacker founder Gina Trapani suggests doing away with a complicated multi-folder system and concentrating on just three: 

  • Follow Up: Use this folder like a to-do list, for all emails that require action—whether that be a two-minute response or a lengthy project. 
  • Archive: Create an archive of emails that you want to keep, for your reference. 
  • Hold: If you’ll need to refer to an email in the next few days, file it in the Hold folder. 

Once you’ve got this system down, as soon as you read a future email, file it appropriately—and don’t keep read emails in your inbox. 

The 4-Hour Workweek

Entrepreneur and author of The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss recommends taking a step back from email in favor of accomplishing items on your to-do list. According to Ferriss, you shouldn’t check your email first thing in the morning or before you go to sleep at night. Instead, schedule set periods to check it two or three times during the day. Tell your employees and important contacts that you’re planning on cutting back from email, and set up an auto-reply with your cell phone number for anything urgent.