I am always made uncomfortable when I see an email inbox with 1000's of emails. I wonder how folks can handle the psychic weight of all those emails. I continue to try to effectively implement Getting Thing Done as I've mentioned before in my systems of organization post.
I also try to get to ZEB (Zero Email Bounce) every day or so. This is when you "bounce" up against zero emails in your inbox. Omar reminded me of the importance of this. This doesn't mean that you've done all your tasks, instead it means you know what your tasks are.
The image at right is my Outlook this moment. I've got an Outlook Search Folder called "Email ZEB" that finds all my Red or Yellow Flagged emails, anywhere in Outlook. I've got four other folders, @Action, @WaitingFor, @Someday and @Snooze.
Right now I've got 16 Action Items to schedule. I've got 44 Red or Yellow Flagged items to watch, and a number of items that are waiting for action from other folks.
Remember that your inbox is not storage, it's a list of what hasn't been categorized yet. If you've got 5000 emails in your inbox, select all the ones that are older than one month and make a folder called Storage. Dump them all in there and you'll have a good start. Get yourself a nice Outlook Search tool like X1 or Google Desktop or MSN Desktop and don't worry, you WILL be able to find stuff again.
I think it's funny that we all know the human brain can't comfortably hold more than 7 digits at once (hence the length of a phone number) but we think that having 5000 emails in our inbox "makes sure things aren't dropped."
Do it, Drop it, Delegate it or Defer it. That's what you should be saying when you read an email.
Another great way I got my ever-increasing Inbox down to zero items (if only for a moment) was to make another Inbox, just for items that I was cc'ed on.
I hate the "Reply to all" culture, where folks cover their own butts by cc'ing others to make sure an item "doesn't get forgotten." I'm guilty of it as well, but 9 times out of 10, an email that I'm cc'ed on will not turn into an Action Item.
Notice that "Inbox - cc'ed" doesn't show up in my Favorite Folders. Again, this decreases its hold on me and the pressure one feels when they see a folder name go bold, indicating that more (potential) work has shown up.
I've found this technique, while always evolving, to be fairly effective in keeping me from stressing out TOO much.
What is your mail-handling style?
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.