Keeping an Empty Inbox
After reading articles like The Tyranny of Email, I decided to change the way I deal with my Inbox. Until that point, it had contained over a thousand messages, about a quarter of them unread, much less replied-to.
So I took all the messages that needed action or a reply (I'd already flagged many of these messages) and put them in my To-Do folder. All the rest went into a new folder named Archive.
And thus I had an empty Inbox.
Now all I need to do is keep my Inbox empty. Every time I check my email (which is no more than once an hour), I'm committed to emptying the Inbox back out. If an email is spam, it gets junked (Mozilla/Thunderbird's term for "marked as spam, tossed in the Junk folder, and analyzed to help spot future spam"). If it's a short announcement, it gets read and tossed into the Archive. If it requires three minutes or less for a reply, I reply to it immediately. If it requires more time or requires prep work, I file it in To-Do. If it needs to be entered on my calendar, I enter it immediately (and toss it in the Archive). If it's one of a smallish list of regular emails or topics, I file it in its folder.
And that's it. Everything gets put in its proper place (or on square one of its journey, in the case of the To-Do emails) as soon as I see it. It's kind of like that put-a-dot-on-each-item-every-time-you-pick-it-up trick, but electronic.
I'm actually seriously considering doing away with some of my folders, since the up-front cost of sorting them is almost as great as the just-in-time cost of searching the Archive for them. But I'll leave that for another time a week into using a system is too soon to start tinkering in a big way.