Getting FAT with your work inbox

FAT email management system

474 unread emails *shudders*

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who don’t mind letting their emails mount up and up, and those who have to keep a tight leash on deleting them. I fall firmly into the latter category, and little icons like the above would drive me a teeny, tiny bit crazy. 474 isn’t even that high a number by many standards – I’ve seen friends who have little red numbers in thousands. Personally, it just doesn’t sit well with the little OCD voice in my head. But I have an answer if you want to gain some email control.

At work, with different request, answers, tasks and deadlines landing at the top of my email throughout the day, I follow a simple process I was taught at the start of my career. It’s a simple system, which means I (nearly) always keep a bit of white space at the bottom of my inbox, which helps keep my stress levels down.

The F.A.T system: File, Action or Trash

It’s as simple as it sounds. When an email comes in, you make a decision as to whether it’s something you need to:

  • File for later. I have a folder set up for each of my clients, internal projects, new business, etc. If it’s something that relates to an on-going project, or I’m tied up on another piece of work and need to come back to it when I am working on that section of work again, it gets filed away and added to my to-do list for later. When you stick to the FAT system, you get pretty good at working out what needs to be saved and what can be deleted.
  • Action now. If it’s a quick answer I can easily give, I’ll send a quick reply and delete it straight away. No time like the present. Done!
  • Trash. Or Bin as we would say in the UK. If it’s something I’ve been copied into as an FYI and I don’t need to remember any details on it for later, or it’s an all-agency email which has no personal relevance, or it’s something I’ve already actioned – it goes to the bin. Out of sight out of mind. And if I decide I do need it at a later date, I can search deleted items, although I try to permanently delete anything more than a couple of months old.

The only exception to this – the emails I keep in my inbox – are things that I am working on that week with details I know I will need to hand which are too lengthy to be jotted on my to do list. But I aim to keep no more than a maximum of 20 in my inbox each week – keeping an eye on that glorious white space below!

Maybe you think I am super pedantic and need to just relax about the number of emails I have in my inbox. Or perhaps this approach seems a bit lax (if so, please tell me your secret to inbox zen!) Whatever your thoughts, here’s wishing you a productive end to the working week and a manageable to-do list ahead.

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