February 04, 2009

What is your Inbox handicap?

No one that I know, except Raytheon's CEO, kills their Inbox everyday. 

Try as you will, you still have several emails left in your Inbox every day. When you are traveling, it grows to more than a few. 

Over the last year, I've been trying to kill my Inbox everyday. It is important to respond in a timely fashion, and when you get a massive amount of unanswered or unfiled email in your Inbox, it leads to stress and anxiety. 

A year ago, my Inbox averaged at least 80 emails in it at any given time.  Most of the read, some responded to and none filed or deleted.  When it climbed above 100, I blocked out time to whack it back down to a manageable size. That was just crisis control, though, not a process.  

Over the last few months, I've developed a new approach: Making it an area of excellence. I now have an email handicap (ala golf) that indicates the average number of emails sitting in my Inbox. The lower the number, the better I'm doing. Currently, I'd say my email handicap is 35.  Not bad compared to last year but still I'm no Bill Swanson (his handicap is zero). By this April, I'll have it down to 20, which would be a real improvement over 2008! 

I challenge you to think about your Inbox like this. Respond in comments with your email handicap, and later as you improve it, update your score. 

If you'd like more tips on better email living, visit: EmailAtoZ
Posted at 3:00 PM in Business Effectiveness , Email Rules  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)  |  TrackBack (0)



Hi Tim,

Being an avid golfer too, I find this a great way to think about e-mail. I'd say I'm about a 3-handicapper, but I'm often at "even par", which I call "e-mail zero" in my training programs. I follow a process using Outlook and some David Allen GTD philosophy of immediately handling any e-mail that will take less than 3 minutes to handle, and converting the e-mails taking longer than 3 minutes into the related tasks, calendar items, and contacts they represent. Using "drag & drop" in Outlook, you can do this very quickly, and thus keep your e-mail very sane!

I then force myself to move "handled" e-mails (done or tasked) out of my inbox. This makes a 2 or 3 e-mail handicap very realistic and achievable on a daily basis. If you'd like to learn more about these strategies, please feel free to visit the site of my recent Amazon bestseller, Taming the E-mail Beast, and related programs on the topic by clicking on my name below. I've got a couple fun video tips there too.

Great post. Thanks for the discussion.


Great idea for a New Year post, Tim. I reopened some of these and got an idea for my own blog, Thanks!

I need to introduce you to Randy Dean, also a writer/speaker/consultant who does great workshops on email management.

Happy New Year.



I'm wondering if I'm best to measure the inbox where I access my mail (it all goes to my Yahoo account where I can access it anywhere and where I am definitely a single digits.

Or to Outlook, where I am a high end double digits (cos once they're read, it's the filing that's boring) - or am I taking this all a bit too seriously?


Great post, and great way to characterize the act of keeping stuff in that inbox.

I'd like to underscore the point that taking it to zero doesn't mean it all needs to be handled to conclusion, rather, each message should be sorted into folders where the emailer can triage the work.

A cluttered inbox is just like having a desk with that many pieces of paper strewn all over it.


Great article, I brought my handicap down substantially. I am leaving on a Friday at a 7


I'm using Eudora Pro on my main computer, and its filters have been excellent at helping me keep the email in my inbox to a minimum - basically to people I know and want to hear from. That has made managing the influx much easier. My handicap is way too high right now, but that's because I've been using my laptop more and letting things get backed up on my desktop.
Anotehr great tip I found was to reply, dump or file the email whenm you first read it, so it clears the inbox.
Thanks for the reminder to get caught up!


OK, I LOVED this challenge - worked hard today and here are my new numbers:
Regular = 182
Google = 187
Yahoo = 20

Regular = 7
Google = 0
Yahoo = 0


I empty my inbox every day, but the time it takes is putting a real drain on my productivity.

Often I spend an hour and a half at the end of the workday sorting through several hundred e-mails, and if I don't check my e-mail again before I go to bed, I'll wake up to a stack of insurmountable size.


Hey Tim, thanks for this post.

Have you tried doing some advanced filters to keep your inbox tidy? From the time I developed a habit of sorting all e-mails *before* they are about to arrive - I keep my inbox at 0 every single day. :-)



i am really bad: handicap over 200. I will not disclose the real number, but will try to go down the 100 line.


I have three inboxes:
Regular = 182
Google = 187, about 1/3 are site registration info emails.
Yahoo = 20 emails, 16 are site registration information I'm keeping. Maybe a folder to file these?

It is SUCH a horrible drain on energy, anxiety producing, and overwhelming. I'm going to lower my handicap for sure!

The comments to this entry are closed.