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The 5 Tools That Help You Reach Inbox Zero

The 5 Tools That Help You Reach Inbox Zero

Even if you still make a lot of phone calls, are constantly texting and post on social media throughout the day, you probably also continue to live in your inbox. Customers often reach out via email with feedback or questions about a proposed deal. Coworkers and managers send email to provide

Even if you still make a lot of phone calls, are constantly texting and post on social media throughout the day, you probably also continue to live in your inbox.

Customers often reach out via email with feedback or questions about a proposed deal. Coworkers and managers send email to provide updates, ask to share a document or to schedule meetings. Email newsletters, meanwhile, allow you to stay on up of industry trends, or offer articles with ideas and inspiration that make you better at your job.

All these different use cases for email add up to one thing: the risk of an inbox that becomes overcrowded and unwieldy.

It’s easy to treat your inbox as a storage facility. The problem is that it’s often a disorganized one, as opposed to a proper database.

When you need to answer a customer’s question, for instance, fishing through your inbox for a message that contains the answer isn’t a great use of time. The same goes when a team member needs a specific version of a document or deck. It’s not much fun sifting through messages and checking all the attachments.

Leaving a crowded inbox unchecked only makes matters worse, of course. The longer you put off addressing it, the more messages that pile up demanding your attention.

“Inbox zero” — where you’re basically back to a clean slate — may seem almost impossible at this point, but it’s not.

Some of the tools to clean out your inbox can be used as part of your day-to-day activities. Others may require a bit of extra time, but that’s an investment that will ultimately pay off in higher productivity and fewer headaches —for you, and those you deal with regularly.

These tools are also all readily available, which means your inbox intervention can begin right now:

1. Your email service settings

Most email programs were designed with a recognition that inboxes can get out of hand. Look for features that might already be built into your email client, such as tabs, folders or labels that can be assigned to segment one category of messages from another.

As you begin to apply these to what comes into your inbox, you can decide what categories should be addressed first, and then deleted soon after.

You might label one set of messages “Customers,” for instance, which would come before messages from coworkers or outside parties.

Some email clients also include the ability to move messages in bulk to the Trash folder, which can be set to empty once a month.

2. Third-party preference centres

You might not be ready to unsubscribe from all your newsletters, or from all the promotions or special offers you get from suppliers and partners. Instead, it may be time to look at how often you want to hear from those third parties, and which topics interest you.

In part because most organizations don’t want to see a high number of people in their database opt out, many have set up online email preference centres. These are simple portals that usually list what you’re currently signed up to receive, and the frequency at which they send them out. You might not even realize the scope of your subscription to a particular newsletter or company, and this is a good time to tailor it to your specific needs.

Once you’re getting only the newsletters and promotional messages you’re likely to open, you’ll be better able to delete them once you’ve finished with them. This can reduce a lot of clutter, so try to do it once a quarter, or even after you first sign up for an email subscription of some kind.

3. The company CRM

There are often good intentions behind a stuffed inbox. While some messages make it very clear you’re simply expected to think about or enjoy the content, others demand action. It’s just not always easy to know what that action should be.

If you’ve deployed a CRM, meanwhile, it’s probably in part because you want to take more of your data and improve decision-making. That makes a CRM a great place to take all the ideas, customer details and other information that might otherwise sit idle in your inbox and enter them for further analysis.

A CRM can take content from those email messages and weave them together with input from other sources — such as records of phone conversations or notes from an in-person meeting — and provide a richer picture of what’s affecting your firm’s ability to increase sales.

4. Employee apps

There’s no rule that says you have to use email as your primary mechanism to communicate internally.

In fact, there are a variety of applications — from employee social networking tools to portals and simple messaging apps — that can allow teams to collaborate in a far more nimble and real-time way.

It’s not always easy to displace something that’s been around for a long time like email, of course, but you can start gradually. Try out a different means of communication and collaboration for coworkers who you’re teaming up with on a specific project.

If that goes well, you could expand it into a department, and eventually the entire company. This alone could save you from a lot of inbox clutter, making it easier to winnow down the rest.

5. Calendar reminders

The other tool where most of us spend a lot of our time other than our inbox is our calendar.

Besides features to set up meetings or appointments, all calendars tend to have some kind of capability to set reminders. These are most often used to help us remember birthdays and anniversaries, but those aren’t the only options.

We often let our inboxes get out of hand because we’re simply busy. Set a reminder in your calendar to conduct a periodic review of your inbox and all the messages that may have piled up there. This turns your goal of reaching inbox zero into something with a specific timeline, which makes you far more likely to achieve it.

Once you get to inbox zero, you’ll be glad you made the effort. And email will transform from a chore back into the powerful communications tool it was always intended to be.

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