How to Keep Your Email Inbox Under Control: Information Emails

In my previous post, I began a series on how to keep your email inbox under control. And I briefly introduced the concept of email management as a decision-making game. If you want to manage your email inbox effectively, you must make decisions—fast.

Too many people have their email inbox cluttered because they fail to make decisions. Either they say to themselves, “I’ll handle this later,” and “later” never comes; or once they’ve handled the email’s request, they fail to decide what to do with the email. The result is that these emails sit in the inbox, creating clutter in their inbox.

Here’s the deal. For every email that gets into your inbox, you must make a decision. More specifically, you must make two key decisions:

  1. You must decide what to do with the email’s request (when there’s one).
  2. You must decide what to do with the actual email once it has served its purpose.

We’re going to get back to these key decisions in this series. For now, accept the fact that making decisions is crucial to getting your inbox under control.

A Matter of Expectation

Each email you receive has a purpose, and that purpose is rooted in the sender’s expectation. You’re receiving this email for a reason (or reasons); the sender has a reason for emailing you.

When someone sends you an email, they have an expectation. They need you to KNOW something, or they need you to DO something.
These point to two primary types of emails, which express the sender’s expectation:

  1. Information emails: The sender wants you to KNOW something (no action required here).
  2. Action emails: The sender wants you to DO something (they need an action).

Many emails are both information emails and action emails at the same time: the sender wants you to KNOW something but also they want you to DO something.
Let’s deal with information emails here. And in my next post, we’ll deal with action emails.

Information Emails

Information emails are emails where the sender simply wants you to know something. They want to share with you a piece of information that’s vital or trivial. They’re not asking for anything other than you reading through the information.

For example, you may receive emails such as the following:

  • “Tomorrow, I’ll be away from work.”
  • “I have reviewed the document you sent me for review and it’s all good. No changes are required.”
  • “Gloria and I spoke and we’ll be facilitating the email management workshop together. Thanks for recommending her to help me with the session.”

These emails provide you with information and don’t require you take any action; they’re for your information. And because these emails don’t require any action, the only decision you have to make once you’ve consumed the information therein is to keep or delete the email. Do you need to keep this email or should you delete it?

When it comes to email management, all information emails are “guilty until proven innocent”: they must be deleted unless they’re able to make a case for themselves.

Your starting point must be “all information emails must be deleted”, otherwise you’ll be tempted to keep many useless emails. And in doubt, you should delete them.

Once an email has served its purpose, it must be deleted, unless it has a worthy secondary purpose.

As a general rule, if you need to refer back to the information in the email (and that information isn’t readily available elsewhere), keep the email.For example, if the email contains important decisions or commitments that were made, keep it for further reference.

If you can’t think of a reason to refer back to an email, delete it. And in hesitation, delete.

About The Author

Vladimir Elie

I help people learn and apply success principles and strategies so that they can get the results they want in life.