[originally posted to my Expediter coaching blog]
"All these best practices are well and good", I hear some of you crying, "but what do I do with this backlog of email clogging up my inbox?"
I assure you, you don't need to deal with all of it at once. You can get rid of it, and quickly, but you need to do just a few little steps.
1) Draw a line in the sand.
Create a label called "Old Inbox" and label every single thing older than 48 hours with that. Give it a color you dislike so you'll be motivated to get rid of that stuff. (If your mail program doesn't have labels, then you'll have to drag everything to a new folder called "Old Inbox" but you will need to be tough on yourself to keep dealing with its contents until it's empty).
2) Above the line, practice good inbox habits as described in my previous posts.
Get clean and clear on everything in the inbox that's newer than the "Old Inbox" label. Live above the line and use search to dig for things below it only if needed.
3) Just ten minutes at a time, knock the old stuff into shape.
Whenever you can spare the time, but at least once a day, set a timer (I recommend Minuteur for Mac users) for 10 minutes and process the old stuff. Do not let yourself get distracted in that time. It's just ten minutes; you can do this!
The best part? It turns out it doesn't actually take very long to get through the old stuff, even if you have hundreds or even thousands of "Old Inbox" messages. Make use of sort by sender or subject to help you knock categories of messages into the right place quickly.
Mastering your inbox will reduce your stress, help you focus your time on the most important actions, and give you the ability to respond thoughtfully when response is appropriate. The calm and control it creates can transform the way others perceive you, building trust and respect.