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How To (Finally) Clean Up Your Messy Email Inbox

06/09/2017 11:30 BST | Updated 06/09/2017 11:30 BST

What tips do you have for clearing your inbox and to-do list every night before bed? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Sharon Feldman Danzger, Productivity Consultant since 2006:

Managing emails should be integrated with both your to-do list and your calendar. So let's start with emails.

EMAILS:

I suggest using the 4 Ds when tackling your inbox:

  1. Delete - anything you don't need
  2. Do - items that take less than two minutes
  3. Delegate - tasks that need to be done by someone else
  4. Defer - emails that require some thought

Recent studies show the connection between constant checking of email and stress levels. When possible, reduce how frequently you check email. In addition to reducing stress, you will save processing time.

When you sit down to go through email, follow the 4 Ds above. Anything that gets delegated should appear on your to-do list as a follow-up item to make sure the task has been completed by the person to whom you have delegated. Deferred items also need to be entered on your to-do list and should include a deadline and priority level.

Once your email has been processed, ALL of the emails that have not been deleted can be put in a Processed Email folder (alternatively, you can create an email filing system but it will require more effort.) Most email platforms have strong search capabilities so you will be able to search the Processed Email folder should you need to refer back to an email.

This will get you to Inbox Zero at the end of each day.

TO-DO LIST:

Everything (yes, everything - both personal and professional) should be on your to-do list. Keeping stuff in your head is risky, clouds your thinking, and is unnecessary. I recently started using Todoist and think it's great. The platform syncs across all devices and the interface could not be simpler. You can create projects to categorize tasks and assign priority and deadlines to everything.

At the end of each day, review to-do list items that were due that day and see what is still outstanding. Re-assign those items so that they do not become 'lost' or fall through the cracks. Add new items that have come up and make sure everything is where it needs to be and is prioritized.

CALENDAR:

Spend the last 10 minutes of your day planning for tomorrow. Review your task list. Schedule the time in your calendar to complete your most important tasks. Actually make an appointment with yourself to do your most important work. It is also helpful to assign blocks of time for similar tasks (phone calls, emails, expense reports, etc.) Similar tasks back-to-back reduce the effort it takes for your brain to switch between unrelated activities.

Be sure to keep in mind the parts of the day where your concentration is best and there are likely to be fewer interruptions. For many people this is first thing in the morning, shortly after they arrive at the office.

Being mindful to schedule your hardest tasks for your window of peak performance will enable you to get more quality work done in less time. performing this ritual each night helps you to have clarity about your priorities and you will certainly sleep better.

Sometimes, having planned your day the night before, you can arrive at work only to find that everything has changed. You must allow yourself the flexibility to adjust and accommodate tasks and projects that might be more urgent and more important than what you had originally planned.

I know this seems like a lengthy process, but once you start doing it and it becomes habit, it's pretty easy. And you will feel a great sense of order that comes with knowing what to expect the following day.

For more great productivity tips, check out my blog.

I hope that helps!

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