The best time management tip: Keep your inbox empty!

4 min read
May 15, 2015

Do you know this? You still have a lot to do, but just now another important, particularly urgent sounding e-mail from your executives pops up in your inbox. What happens next? You process it and other urgent e-mails, although you had planned to spend your workday on different tasks. The result: You have the feeling that you simply can't manage your work without working a lot of overtime.

The escape from email chaos!

time management tip empty inbox task prioritizing

The problem is this: Your inbox is nothing more than another To Do list. Each e-mail represents a task - no matter if the task is called "Delete", "Archive" or "Reply". In parallel, you probably maintain a To Do list in Outlook, but maybe additionally handwritten and on your smartphone. So now you have at least two if not three or even four To Do lists competing with each other. How are you going to prioritize them now? In most cases, your inbox wins and you are no longer in control of what is really most important. It is time to try another time management strategy.

Here is our best tip for more efficient time management: Limit yourself to one to-do list and keep your inbox empty!

Keep your inbox empty in 4 steps

  1. Start entering all your tasks in Outlook Tasks. This should be the only To Do list you maintain and use. Replace slips of paper and other To Do lists completely. For example, if you use an iPhone, you can easily view your Outlook To Dos on your iPhone via the Reminders app. And if you think of a To Do after or before work, you can enter it right there.
    time management tip empty inbox to do list

  2. Now we come to your inbox. Empty your inbox 3 times a day, so that not a single email is left in your inbox. And here's the thing: even if you find 50 emails or more in your inbox, this cleanup should not take more than 10 minutes! So skim each mail as briefly as possible and decide whether you want to delete, archive or reply to it. You probably already know the recycle bin for deleting, but in addition, we recommend that you create two subfolders "Archive" and "To Do".

    time management tip empty inbox overflowing mailbox

    The archive folder contains e.g. interesting newsletters or emails that have only been set to CC for information purposes. The "To Do" folder contains all emails to which you have to reply. Whenever you move a mail to this folder, please create a To Do in your taskbar at the same time.
    Give the task a specific name and decide when you want to work on this To Do. IMPORTANT: do not start to answer single emails during this, if the answer takes longer than 30 seconds. Otherwise, an hour of your precious time will quickly go by during clean-up sessions.

  3. It is best to do this once in the morning, around noon and before you leave work. Make some time before or after your meetings, which you can dedicate to tidying your inbox. Find out how you can plan buffers before or after your meetings in our article on widely unknown Outlook features. Once you have tidied up your inbox and would now like to concentrate on your next To Do, we recommend that you activate Outlook's "Work Offline" function. You can find this function in the "Send / Receive" tab.
    time management tip empty inbox email notifications

    Also, be sure to disable all notifications of new mails in Outlook Options under “Emails”. Otherwise incoming emails and the corresponding notification sound are sure to divert your attention from the task at hand.

  4. We now come to the final cornerstone of this concept: your To Do List! Each task should be as precise as possible and implementable within a maximum of 1-2 hours. In addition, you should not plan to spend more than 60% of your workday on To Dos.

    Nothing is more motivating than finishing all To Dos for the day. So after you have listed all the daily To Dos, prioritize them in outlook by dragging and dropping them in your list. The order of the To Dos determines the sequence in which they will be processed. You don't need ABC prioritization or anything like that. Just decide which To Dos are most important and start with those. If you can't get to some To Dos, you can either use the remaining 40% of your workday to finish them or push them to the next day. Avoid making this a routine though. Instead, your goal should be to complete your daily schedule as often as possible.

    time management tip empty inbox finish your tasks

Try it out! We are sure that our concept will help you regain control over your workday and make more room for important tasks!

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