The three-second rule for email inbox management


There are books and books written about workplace productivity, with a significant portion of that literature devoted to our email inboxes. These best practices cover a variety of good ideas – from folder structure to automated rules to delegation and so on.

But the single most important rule you can follow (even if you don’t do anything else, and your inbox is overflowing on a daily basis) is the three-second rule.

If you look at an email quickly but get intimidated about what to do next, the three-second rule is going to change your life. When we don’t know what to do next, or get intimidated about what that next step might be, we often defer the decision until later. Unfortunately, if you do this for dozens or hundreds of emails a day, you’re just delaying decisions and actions that, often, can be done in seconds or minutes themselves.

So the three-second rule is simple. Read the email and force yourself to spend three seconds deciding what to do. It can be that you really need to schedule a meeting, or you need to make a go/no go decision, or something else that’s simple but needed just a couple seconds to decide. Not every email is that fast and simple, but I bet you’ll find that a surprisingly high volume of your emails actually are.

By forcing yourself to take those three seconds, you’ll clean out your email very quickly, and free your time (and your mind) focus on the issues that need more of your devoted, uninterrupted time.

Give it a shot today. Take some email from the weekend, block out 15 minutes, and dig in. Let me know how it goes.