If inbox zero sounds like a pipe dream and the number of unread messages in your email makes you want to toss your laptop in the lake, I’ve got great news for you: my HEART system can work for your inbox, too.
I’ve been on a mission to teach women to live with HEART for more than decade, and I’ve learned a lot in those years. But it’s only in the last year that I’ve started applying HEART to my digital life. It seems like more and more of our responsibilities are living in the digital space, and I don’t know about you, but between work, home, kid stuff, and my personal life, my inbox is overflowing. With so many emails flooding in every day, it’s no wonder we often feel overwhelmed and stressed.
What is HEART?
HEART is a system I developed to help balance my life, and I found it so transformative, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen about it ever since. Each letter stands for a life segment:
- Help Yourself
- Empower Yourself
- All Your People
- Resources & Responsibilities
- Trade & Talent
If HEART is new to you, and you want to learn more, I wrote a book all about it and you can also catch the replay of my 2023 HEART Goals workshop! If you are already familiar with HEART and want to know how to apply it to your digital life, read on!
How to HEART Your Inbox
Applying the five HEART principles to your inbox will take opening your email from a dreaded, overwhelming task to a helpful tool. I believe that getting systems set up takes a little bit of trial and error, so I’m going to share my tips with you, but feel free to tweak and adjust to make them work for your life!
H – Help Yourself
The first letter in the HEART acronym stands for helping yourself. It’s the old “put your own oxygen mask on first,” principle. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you can’t give the best of yourself to your other responsibilities. In the digital world, this means putting boundaries around email use. We’ve all been stuck in the pattern of constantly refreshing our inboxes, or been distracted from an important project because a new email came in. Every email is a decision you have to make, and even if it seems like those decisions are minor (like whether you open the email or delete it), they take energy. Setting boundaries around your email use will make sure you aren’t slowly draining your energy all day long, without even realizing it. A few practical things you can do:
- Set “email hours”—decide on specific times you’ll check email. I think once in the morning, once around lunch, and once at night is a good rhythm. But if your job relies heavily on email, there are still options for you: could you set aside the last ten minutes of each hour for email?
- Consider if you really need a notification every time an email comes in (both on your phone and computer). Turning off notifications is an easy way to help you be in charge of your inbox instead of your inbox being in charge of you.
- If you do decide you need to keep on notifications, try using Do Not Disturb or Focus mode when you are working on something time-sensitive or that requires a lot of focus.
E – Empower Yourself
This life segment is all about your emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well being. Email can be overwhelming, sure, but it can also bring us valuable information that enriches our lives. The key is figuring out how to make sure those emails don’t overwhelm us so much that we don’t end up getting any value from them.
What kind of emails do you get that help you take care of your emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being? Consider setting up filters or rules that automatically sort emails. Set up folders for these emails to be sorted into, and then read through them as you have time.
You might end up with several different folders: one for devotionals, one for news or other current events, and one for newsletters or other writing that really makes you think. As you set up the categories, keep them general enough that you don’t end up with a thousand different folders to sort through (but specific enough that you know where to find what).
While you are setting up your rules or filters, go ahead and look for emails you are currently subscribed to that you no longer need and go ahead and unsubscribe. If you realize you miss an email in your inbox down the road, you can always resubscribe!
A – All Your People
This category is all about your relational well-being. As women, we often juggle a lot of relationships: with our partners, our children, extended family, and friends. Your inbox can help make this juggling more manageable.
Setting up an email folder for each person in your immediate family, for example, will help you quickly find information you need. Instead of scrolling through, desperate to find the latest soccer schedule or field trip information for one of your kids, just hop on over to their folder and have it at your fingertips.
Another great way to use your inbox in this category is by setting up a folder of encouragement or meaningful notes you receive from people in your life. Anytime an email that fits into this category comes in, add it to the folder. If you are having a hard day or need a little boost of confidence, revisit this folder for a little dose of encouragement.
R – Resources & Responsibilities
Being an adult comes with a lot of responsibilities. There are bills to pay, homes to manage, and cars that need to be maintained. Keeping your inbox organized can help you stay on top of the endless tasks that need to be done. Don’t end up with late fees because bills got lost in the pile of mail on your counter or somewhere in your inbox.
Folders can help you organize these responsibilities, but email alerts or reminders are another great option for helping you stay on top of these things!
You can also consider the folders in your inbox as a digital filing cabinet. File away receipts, warranties, and contracts so you have them for future reference.
T – Trade & Talent
Trade & Talent is where your career or professional well-being falls, but don’t skip this category if you don’t work outside the home. Volunteer commitments or hobbies can fall here too.
Set up a few more folders and filters, related to your work or volunteer commitments. Exactly how you organize it is up to you. Remember, you want a system that makes it easy to find what you need. Subfolders might come into play here: you might want a general folder for your job or for a volunteer commitment, with subfolders for specific projects or events.
You can also use your inbox to keep track of industry news. Create a folder for any informational emails you receive related to your industry, including newsletters and blogs. Then, when you have a few minutes to read through, it’s right there and easy to access!
A Few Last Tips
Remember, setting up systems that work takes time! You aren’t going to totally revamp your inbox in one afternoon—and if you do, you might not be able to remember where you put anything! Take this slow: a little at a time, and tweak as you go. Don’t be afraid of the unsubscribe button—every email you get is something you have to manage!
If you need an easy reference tool while you learn the HEART system, check out the HEART Goals Daily Plan notepad! By following these five principles – Help Yourself, Empower Yourself, All Your People, Resources & Responsibilities, and Trade & Talent – you can HEART your inbox and make it work for you instead of feeling overwhelmed by email.