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Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, Third Edition by Gina Trapani, Adam Pash

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Hack 1: Empty Your Inbox (and Keep It Empty)

Level Easy

Platforms All

Cost Free

When you can empty your inbox on a regular basis, you’ve reached the ultimate level of email control. Emptying the inbox clears away that pile of unidentified pieces of information, keeps it from stacking up higher every day, and frees your mind to worry about more important work.

Why an Empty Inbox?

Your inbox is a temporary holding pen for unprocessed messages. An unprocessed email is one you haven’t made a decision about yet. When you get into the habit of deciding what to do with a new message within a day of its arrival, move it out of your inbox.

Some people enjoy keeping their inbox full so that they can glance at a list of most recent messages to see what’s going on — what they should be working on, what their group is discussing, the latest funny YouTube video that’s making the rounds. But just as you’d never leave a physical paper inbox full of documents whose only commonality is that they’re incoming, you don’t want to leave your email inbox full of messages. An inbox full of read messages does you no favors: You have no way to prioritize what’s most important or to access the message contents in their most useful context. For example, a meeting invitation that comes in via email is much more meaningful on your calendar than in your inbox. A website address you want to visit later would do better in your bookmarks than in your email. A project document belongs in its appropriate folder, not ...

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