Fast-forward to the future and welcome to 2020. We carry WhatsApp, Google Assistant, Siri and all manner of social media channels in our pocket. Yet, email continues to survive and thrive today, largely unchanged. My hair, alas, is a distant memory.

What is an inbox anyway?

The term 'inbox' is a reference to the tray that would have commonly been found on someone's desk back in the 70s and 80s. Into this tray would be delivered letters and documents for processing. Once actioned these documents would move on to someone else or perhaps be filed in the 'round filing cabinet' (the bin).

The inbox has always been a temporary place through which the river of information flows (bear with me here), and it was not intended to ever be allowed to silt up. If documents were allowed to pile up, the inbox quickly became unmanageable.

So, back to your inbox today. How many emails are in there right now? Does the number make you feel good? Are your emails running free or are things a bit clogged up?

How low can you go?

You can get the number of messages down easily. In fact, you can get it to zero in no time at all if you want. To do this successfully involves a bit of technology and some new habits.

To start you'll need to use a built-in feature found in most email apps - Outlook supports this. It's called the archive folder.

Archive is your friend

Archive is a special folder, designed to store things that aren't 'current', but you don't want to throw away. It's safe to file things in there because they are easy to find later if you need them. This leaves your inbox free just for things that are new.

So here's something to try

- Look down your list of emails in your inbox.
- Find one that you have finished with. The kind of email you might normally delete (not this one thank you, not yet anyway). This will be an email to practice on. Found one? Great!
- In Outlook - right click on it and from the menu that appears and choose 'archive'.
- The message will vanish from your inbox. It is safe! It's just moved somewhere else more suitable for long-term storage. So let's find it...

Check your archive folder

- Look down your list of email folders.
- In the hierarchy of your mailbox will be the archive folder. Give it a click and your recently archived message will be there.
- If you ever want to bring an archived message back to your inbox you can right click on it and from the menu choose move, then set your inbox as the destination.

Practice makes perfect

Try archiving less important emails first, to get the hang of it. Then get into the habit of archiving as you go. This is the first step to de-clogging your inbox.

Congratulations!

You have now halted the build-up of fresh silt. Archiving completed messages is a great habit to build. If you want more info on using the archive folder, Microsoft has a comprehensive explanation.

But what about zero emails?

You can have a totally clear inbox if you want. With some hacks and a couple of new skills, it is perfectly achievable and easy to maintain. I'll put more tips in future Learning Points editions but also check out our training Getting to Inbox Zero.

Meanwhile all this talk of the 80s and letting rivers of information run reminds me of the spirited opening sequence from that other hit from the late 80's - the movie Working Girl. If the number of emails in your inbox daunting then enjoy this uplifting clip. I'm sure Carly won't mind you swapping out 'river' for 'emails' if you decide to sing along. Caution - it's a bit of an earworm.

Training: Getting to Inbox Zero
Faculty: deliver