There are lots of different email strategies out there (and it’s quite a reflection on the world we live in that mastering email is a key element in becoming more professionally productive). You might file or search; you might believe in an empty Inbox or not; you might leave your email on all day or disconnect your email program for part of the day.
(I happen to be: search not file; no empty inbox; on all day. You?)
The big question is, what exactly do you DO when you open up your Inbox?
The FIFO philosophy (first-in, first-out) has you digging from the back…you start with your oldest email and work backwards. I suspect this is an uncommon strategy for all but the most avid empty-inboxers.
LIFO (last-in, first-out), conversely, has you start with whatever came in most recently. It’s tempting and rewarding and, I suspect, a terrible strategy most of the time – instant gratification disguising itself as productivity.
I’d propose a NIFO strategy instead: none-in, first out. That is, you open your email because you have something specific to get done, someone you want to reach out to, a very important action that you want to initiate.
Since you have many very important things to do (customers to call on, projects that you are moving forward, etc.), starting with these, rather than starting with replying to whatever everyone else wants you to do, allows you to own your agenda rather than have your agenda own you; it ensures that when you run out of “email time” (as you inevitably will) that the things that are left off the list aren’t the five most important things you have to do; and if you’re disciplined about this you’ll never dive into email just to empty your inbox…you’ll start with actions you want to initiate and then (and only then) will get to “replying all.”