To manage your inbox, you need dedication. You need a plan. You need acronyms. One such acronym is RAFT, which will literally keep you afloat in the sea of emails you receive every day. You can combine it with others, like LIFO and 4D to maximize its benefits, but first you need to know what to do with it on its own.
RAFT stands for: Read, act, file, trash. Easy! With this management system, you take the time to read an email first, then act on it however you need to (if you need to) before either filing it away somewhere or deleting it.
That’s really all there is to it, but it works because it requires you to focus on each individual email and make an assessment right away, so you don’t miss anything.
To maximize the benefits, you should combine this with another system or two. For instance, combine RAFT with the LIFO—last in, first out—method, which calls for you to answer your most recent emails before older ones. If you do this, you’ll always be acting on the most urgent needs instead of playing endless catch-up with things that you let slip by. If something from the past is truly important, you’ll get a follow-up email and you can RAFT then. Otherwise, stick with your most pressing, recent messages and read them, act on them, and file or trash them after that.
When it comes to the acting part, you can call on the trusty 4D method to help you out. The four Ds are delete, do, delegate, or defer, and they refer to the four things you can do with any email. (Delete here is redundant, since “trash” is part of RAFT, but it’s good to reinforce the notion that useless emails should be nuked.) Either do what the email says or delegate it to someone who can, but keep the process moving swiftly. If you don’t end up forwarding it to someone else, delete it or defer (file) it. The main rule of RAFT is you have to do something with every message.
As for the filing component of RAFT, make sure you have a great file system in place in advance. If you use Gmail, consider using labels as a more organized archive system, to make whatever you choose to file away more easily accessible. You can label these mini-archives by date, by project, or by whatever makes sense for your retrieval, but be consistent about it so you’re not just banishing all your dealt-with messages to an email limbo.