Skillsoft Blog

How to Process Email and Keep Your Inbox Empty

We are pleased to bring you a guest blog post today from Laura Stack, a well-known time management and productivity expert that works with international leaders, entrepreneurs, salespeople, and professional services firms on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in the workplace. As the founder and president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., she helps individuals, leaders, teams, and organizations achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. She has implemented productivity-improvement programs at companies such as Wal-Mart, Cisco Systems, UBS, Aramark, and Bank of America. Laura is the bestselling author of five books, including “What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do” and “SuperCompetent.”

By Laura Stack

Undoubtedly, your email is probably the biggest organizational challenge you deal with today. Make no mistake: Email actually IS your work, as all those messages represent something you need to do and decisions you need to make. But many people are paralyzed by the sheer volume of messages or don’t have a systematic way of pulling action from email. So most people leave messages in their inboxes to languish and get buried by the onslaught of new incoming emails.

Instead, force yourself to make one of six decisions from my 6-D Information Management System™:


1. DISCARD = DELETE. It’s the simplest and most effective way to reduce your email volume. This doesn’t require extensive explanation; I hope use your delete key often—about 80% of the time!

2. DELEGATE = FORWARD. Send it to someone else. Then either delete or file the original email, so it’s no longer in your Inbox. Or send a Task Request (right-click, select Move to Folder, select Tasks, click the Assign Task button, type in the person’s name, type instructions, and Send.) The email is gone from your Inbox but can be seen in Tasks when you view by Person Responsible. Now you’ll easily see who owes you what. If you need a reminder about items you sent to others but don’t want to create a Task Request, click on your Sent Items and find the message you just sent. Drag it to Tasks, which creates a copy, and click the Reminder box. Set a date you expect to hear back. When you get the Reminder pop-up box, open the Task and review it. If you received a reply, mark it complete or delete it. If you haven’t heard back, you can forward or re-send your original email to follow up.

3. DO = REPLY. If you can answer quickly (in less than three minutes), just hit Reply, type your answer, send, delete/file, and move to the next. Get it out of your Inbox! Stop clicking around and reading email without replying to it.

4. DATE = MOVE TO FOLDER. For most people, this step is the big black hole of email management. If an email requires a reply but you can’t do it now, what should you do with it? Do not leave it in your inbox! You also don’t want to simply file it (unless you made a task or a note), because you might forget about it. Instead, convert the email into a Task. In Outlook 2010, open the email, and click the Move button. If it’s something you need to do, select Tasks. If it’s connected to a specific time, for example a lunch date, then select Calendar. (Don’t put things you need to do in your calendar, because if you don’t get it done, you have to manually change the date to another day. Tasks, however, roll forward automatically.) A new Task or Appointment will open, and the text of your email will be in the text portion, and your original email with all attachments will be at the bottom as an icon. In the Task, fill in the Start Date (the date you want to see the item again) and the Due Date (when it must be completed). Change the To-Do bar on the right side to arrange by “Start Date,” so the Today flag becomes a daily to-do list. (Why would you want to know something is due today, if it’s going to take you several days to complete it?) When it comes up under the Today flag, open the task, scroll to the bottom, open the email, and reply. Get out of the mindset that an email has to be in the Inbox to reply to it. To download a detailed white paper with screen shots and step-by-step instructions on how to do this in Outlook 2003 or 2007, go to

5. DRAWER = FILE. Move the email to a personal folder. Or, as I prefer, select File, Save As, and save the email as an .msg file (Outlook message format) on your hard or shared drive (in the same location and manner you would save a Word document or PowerPoint deck).

6. DETER = UNSUBSCRIBE. Get off the distribution list permanently. Or create a Rule to automatically delete or file email. Or add the sender to the blocked senders list.

Laura Stack will be hosting a free webinar on June 20 based on her book What To Do When There’s Too Much To Do. For more information please visit:

QuickTalks: Laura Stack: Avoid Distractions at Work


Distractions include technology, people, and your brain. Disable email alerts, except from important people, and other communication devices. Discourage drop-in visitors through signals and barriers. If your brain distracts you, write it down and keep working.


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