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Cut the email clutter: 3 simple steps to overhaul your inbox

This is the first installment in our Declutter Your Life blog series, designed to give you the clarity and space you need to grow your business.

As the owner-operator of your business, you’re often the first point of contact for anyone trying to connect with any part of your company. So no doubt your inbox is a constant distraction—even a point of overwhelm. And no matter how diligent you are about managing your email, messages can still build up quickly. Here’s the good news: There’s a simple way to organize your inbox, so you can handle every email clearly and quickly.

As the owner-operator of your business, you’re often the first point of contact for anyone trying to connect with any part of your company. So no doubt your inbox is a constant distraction—even a point of overwhelm. And no matter how diligent you are about managing your email, messages can still build up quickly. Here’s the good news: There’s a simple way to organize your inbox, so you can handle every email clearly and quickly.

We call it “the three A’s.”

To start, create three labels or tags for your inbox: Archive, Act or Assign. (Here’s how to do that in Gmail and Outlook.) Then get to work. The key to making this process work is to never close an email without classifying it. The minute you open an email, classify and tag it to either Archive, Act or Assign, and follow through to move it out of your inbox right then and there.

Archive

Despite the stress of sifting through hundreds (or thousands!) of emails, many of us are averse to deleting them. What if I need this message later? If I delete it, I’ll forget about it. An Archive folder works like a trash folder with a safety net. Archived messages will still be accessible and searchable without clogging your inbox, so you can more clearly see your priority action items. In short, if a message isn’t one that you or a member of your team can act on immediately, put it in your Archive.

Act

Emails in this category are your specific “to do’s.” They should involve strategic and leadership work that fits into your role as owner. Once you classify an Act email, apply the “2-minute rule.” Can you act on this email in two minutes? If so, do it now, then archive it (i.e., get it out of your inbox). If not, put it into a task list, work on it during a dedicated time, then put it into an archive. Ultimately, all emails should end up in your Archive folder.

Assign

Part of being a strong leader is learning how and when to delegate. It’s true of the day-to-day operations of your business, and it’s true of communication management. When messages that hit your inbox fall under the roles and responsibilities of one of your team members (based on their Position Agreement and your organizational chart), immediately forward and assign that message to the relevant employee. And if it makes sense, copy the sender on the forwarded email with a friendly intro. That way, they’ll know who to connect with in the future. Then what? You guessed it—archive.

If you keep up with this three-step system, your inbox will become a more functional space and provide the clarity you need to stay on top of your most critical messages. 

And you're probably not the only person in your business who struggles with email clutter. Once you get the hang of this system, present it to your team and share how it's impacted your workflow. You'll inspire them to get more organized as well. 

In the next article in this series, we take a look at how to organize a workspace that supports (rather than hinders) your productivity.

Kirstin Fulton

Written by Kirstin Fulton

Kirstin Fulton is a Content Creator for EMyth, where she partners with every department to develop content that inspires and educates business owners on their entrepreneurial journey. Her experience lies in writing and producing digital and print media for various industries, developing corporate events, and building immersive curriculum for both academic and business environments. She’s passionate about serving the EMyth community—our clients, Coaches, and colleagues—through writing that brings clarity, guidance and enthusiasm to the everyday.

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