January 8, 2011

It's Not a Sin to Have Nothing In Your "In"

They're gone. They're all gone.

My email inbox is empty. I have no emails left over from 2010. I don't even have any from 2011. Sadly, I am guessing that some of you reading this probably have emails still in your inbox from 2009 or earlier, don't you?

Please don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with having old emails somewhere on your computer. I have quite a few "Congratulations" emails from years back when I was promoted to my current role and I have an entire folder called my "Positive Vibrations" folder where I store all my "feel good" notes, letters and comments from various classes, workshops and events.

But there is something cathartic about cleaning out that Inbox every once in awhile. I'm not talking down to a hundred or single digits...I'm talking empty. Zero. None.

The white screen just looks at you and shows "There are no items to show in this view," almost mocking those of us who live and breathe to receive and reply to emails.

The 3D Approach to Manage Your Inbox; Do something, Delegate it to someone else, or Delete it.

Do Something - Many emails we receive need to be acted on. In order to maintain control over your Inbox, determine if the email sender deserves or requires an immediate response. If so, respond as necessary and then delete the original email or save it to a folder. I'll discuss this more later.

If the email requires some action on your behalf but isn't needed to be acted on at that time, add it as a task or calendar item for the designated time that is appropriate. Once it has been moved to the calendar, feel free to delete it from your inbox. (If dragging to your Outlook Calendar, the entire body of the email will be in the newly created calendar appointment).

You could also use a service such as Nudgemail to schedule the emails to be resent to you as a reminder.

Delegate It - Admit it. You can't do everything. Many times the email is requesting information that an assistant could handle or perhaps it needs to go to an affiliate, vendor or someone else in your office? Hit the "Forward" button, add in a quick note to the new recipient and then remove the email from your inbox.

Delete It - Hopefully you have a good spam filter to protect your inbox from junk mail but if something does get through (and assuming you're not interested in enlarging any body parts or helping secure the financial inheritance of a Sudanese Prince) hit the "delete" button immediately.

If you can't "do something" with it and you can't "delegate" it, then it needs to be deleted. Do so with confidence.

Know When to Hold 'Em, Know When to Folder Them

Depending on your email program you should have the ability to create folders and sub folders. Some obvious folders for a typical Realtor would be Sellers, Buyers, Marketing, Training, etc. If you really wanted to be detailed, you could create folders such as 2010 Sellers, 2011 Sellers, etc.
Inside each of those folders you could have folders by clients name or address.

As an email comes in from a client or about a specific transaction, it should be dragged and dropped into that folder and can then be comfortably deleted from the inbox.

I currently have 45 folders and 15 of those have sub-folders or multiple sub-folders within them. I narrowed this number down when I spent New Years Eve afternoon deleting many old, un-needed folders and their contents.

Am I worried about losing something important? Not really. Sort of like parting with that old shirt you haven't worn in years, if I haven't needed it in the last few years, chances are I won't this year.

What about those blogs, e-newsletters and industry articles?

I get those too. In fact, I probably receive about 10-15 different blogs a day via email but instead of them clogging up my email Inbox, I have created "rules" for certain emails that I know I will receive almost every day. These "rules" in Outlook allow me to send these designated emails directly to a specified folder so I can read it when I have time - in the evenings, while waiting for classes or meetings to start or for you, perhaps at a slow Open House?

Sometimes I don't get to these blogs until the weekends or later, but that's okay. The sender won't know if you've read it or not.

Eliminate the Social Meeting Notifications

Do you really need to be alerted in your inbox each time someone re-tweets you, or tags you in a Facebook status update? Can you check Linked-In at a pre-scheduled time to see who wants to connect with you? I think updating your profiles in Twitter, Linked-In, Facebook and any other social networking site might be called for today in order to have a more productive 2011.

And if you are afraid of feeling forgotten by the world, remember the Doritos commercials of a few years back that said, "Don't worry. We'll make more." I know before the night is through, I'll have something in my Inbox. Tomorrow when I wake up, there will be more. And then more, and more and more after that.

I guess cleaning out your inbox is kind of like washing, waxing, vacuuming and detailing the interior of your car. You are so proud of how shiny it looks and how "clean" it feels that you promise that you won't eat or drink in the car - ever again! Before you know it, you've got more McDonald's wrappers and empty Diet Coke bottles in you backseat than you remember throwing away in the first place. That's how you know it's time to clean it out again.

What's your strategy for maintaining an efficient email inbox? How many emails are currently in your inbox right now? Please add your comments below.

Until the next Realtor's Toolbox arrives in your inbox, keep building relationships, solving problems and having fun.