Does Your E-Mail Inbox Need a 60-Second Cleansing?

It was a warm Friday morning in Kona, Hawaii… and there I was eating my breakfast with five of my friends, all members of the Transformation Leadership Council.

Suddenly, that all-important topic of distractions came up. So I seized the opportunity to ask all five thought leaders the single most important entrepreneurial productivity question that I routinely ask my students, friends, colleagues, and even my mentors:

“What’s the number one distraction you inevitably face each day in your personal and professional life?”

All five gave the same answer – the same answer I hear from my students, my friends, my colleagues, and my mentors.


Imagine that. The number one distraction faced by just about everyone today didn’t even exist for them a decade ago.

Most successful businesspeople have come up with ways to reduce the negative impact e-mail has on productivity. For example, Michael Masterson recommends checking e-mail once, maybe twice, a day. But no matter how efficiently they manage their inboxes, it’s surprising to me how many ultra-successful entrepreneurs experience feelings of guilt, shame, and even contempt for the number of e-mails that go unopened and unresponded to.

Guilt? Shame? Contempt? Wow! How can an innocent form of communication originally designed for convenience create so much tension, stress, and worry for so many people?

I have no idea how to answer that question, but I do have a simple three-step process to do something about it.

Your 3-Step E-Mail Elimination Plan

If you have the courage to give this proven method a fair try, you can eliminate those unopened and undeleted e-mails (and the negative feelings attached to them) in less than 60 seconds.

I do this every month, and I encourage you to do it too. It will liberate you and free your mind so you can get it back where it belongs – on revenue generation.

Step 1:Categorize your e-mail messages in reverse chronological order (most recent at the top to the least recent at the bottom).

Step 2: Quickly scan all of your messages and make certain there aren’t any critical ones that you’ve opened but haven’t yet responded to. (You’ll take care of those as soon as you finish this 60-second elimination procedure.) Then highlight all e-mail messages – opened and unopened – that are over 72 hours (three days) old.

It’s as simple as breathing so far, right? Well, Step #3 isn’t as easy for most people

Step 3: After all those old e-mail messages are highlighted, take a 10-second deep breath… and then take five seconds to put your index finger on the DELETE key and press it down firmly.

Uh, yeah… that’s it.

MaryEllen Tribby does something similar. When she returns from vacation or a business trip, she deletes the hundreds of e-mails that have accumulated. (Before she leaves, she sets up an autoresponder message to let people know she’s away and ask them to re-send their e-mails if they still require her attention.)

Any e-mail that’s over three days old is a dinosaur by 2009 standards. People who e-mail you want responses and want them fast. If you can’t satisfy their need for urgency, delete their e-mails so you can remove the guilt, shame, or contempt they make you feel.

Look, if their message is really that important to them, they’ll e-mail you again, right?

As MaryEllen has found, most of them won’t. Urgent problems and “issues” somehow get taken care of. And for those few that still need your attention, you’ll get a second chance to do something about them within 72 hours… and you’ll do it stress-free!

I know this sounds a little harsh if you’re used to being responsive to everyone who e-mails you. But keep in mind that the more successful you become, the more e-mails you’re likely to get… and the less likely it will be that you’ll have time to respond to all of them.

Bottom Line: This simple three-step method puts you in control of your time. And that’s what it is – YOUR TIME.

I even take it a step further. Not only do I do this 60-second cleansing every 30 days or so, I actually change my private e-mail address every year.

Working from a “zero base” e-mail inbox means no leftover e-mails that cause me stress and worry. I typically read and respond, read and ignore, or read and delete.

Try it.

[Ed. Note: Alex Mandossian knows a thing or two about marketing. He has generated over $233 million in sales for his clients. And in the past three years, he increased his own revenues from $1.5 million to $5 million. You can get Alex’s advice and practical marketing tips for info-publishers, small-business owners, and entrepreneurs for free at]

Comment on this article

  • Garnet

    I work in the HR branch of a fairly large government department. Apart from the ‘work’ that arrives in paper format, E-mails entail at least half of my working day. It is impossible NOT to deal with them on an ongoing basis throughout the day. If I looked at them just once or twice on a trial basis during day one, I would have so many to deal with when I returned the next day that that day would be lost to having to answer just those that had come in and were ignored the previous day. Forget trying to deal with any paperwork!

    My work involves all manner of details relating to the Salary and benefits of employees from the time they are first hired, right through to when they Retire and I have to provide everything relating to that. Ditto for situations involving Leave Without Pay. And because I work with deadlines involving Pay, I need to know when someone has suddenly quit or had a term unexpectedly end, or gone on Leave Without Pay. Otherwise, direct deposits of the employee’s wages will continue, and embarrassing (for me) overpayments will result.

    Consequently, I need to examine every E-mail I receive on any given day.