Inbox Zero is so helpful and not hard. just do it!

inbox zeroFor the month of January I’ve rocked what the industry calls “Inbox zero” and I’m absolutely loving it.  For those unfamiliar, the concept of Inbox Zero was popularized back in 2007 from a Google Tech Talk video. It’s essentially an email management framework in order to not let email overwhelm us.  To tame the beast so to speak.  From the video, here are the tips he suggests to get to “Inbox Zero”:

  • Don’t leave the email client open.
  • Process email periodically throughout the day, perhaps at the top of each hour.
  • First delete or archive as many new messages as possible.
  • Then forward what can be best answered by someone else.
  • Immediately respond to any new messages that can be answered in two minutes or less.
  • Move new messages that require more than two minutes to answer — and messages that can be answered later — to a separate “requires response” folder.
  • Set aside time each day to respond to email in the “requires response” folder or chip away at mail in this folder throughout the day.

For the past few years I’ve been really interested in taming the beast of email.  I had (and still have) three goals for Inbox Zero (1) Increase productivity by not wasting time on email (2) never let anything fall through the cracks via email and (3) Reduce checking email throughout the day.  With that in mind, I dove right in and it took me about an hour to get my process down.  Here’s what I did:  I mentally created four types of emails that come into my inbox

  1. To Do Item
  2. Article to Read Later
  3. Personal or “Quick Response”
  4. Nonsense or SPAM

The first two were the most important for me to find a home for these items outside of email.  From the tech talk, the person suggests moving to-do items to a separate email folder, but I’m not a big fan of that since it means you have to go into email to check the to do list.  Not my goal here.   For my personal to do lists I use a software called Trello which is absolutely phenomenal.  I won’t go into my love affair with this software but suffice it to say, it’s easy, it works phenomenal, and I can’t live without it.  Any to-dos I had in email I moved to Trello and deleted the email.  Step 1 done.

Secondly, any articles shared via email that I wanted to read were saved to Pocket.  I’ve talked about this software before as it’s the best “read later” app I’ve ever used (I used it so much that Pocket told me in 2015 I read enough articles to compromise 26 books).  Those emails with the articles then got a generic response saying “thanks! I’m saving that read for later”.  Boom, email deleted.

Now I was cruising and not only applied those first two steps to my start of Inbox Zero but also to ongoing emails that came in after my first pass.

For #3 and #4 types of emails, to start, I just deleted ALL of them.  Done.  If it was a quick response and I hadn’t responded after a few days, I missed the boat.  Deleted!  Invites, stupid questions, random emails from strangers, really vague articles from friends… deleted.  My philosophy was, and still is, to delete at will, to just say no, and move on.  For ongoing and future emails I handle them as follows.  If they are quick I will respond very fast and delete.  And if they are wasteful emails… well they go where they belong… the trash.

As of today the process is still humming along and I check email periodically throughout the day.  Typically I will have around 20-40 emails and I will follow the same process I outlined to start and it only takes a few minutes only to clear out my inbox.  It’s empowering and easy.  So far this has been a phenomenal improvement to my productivity while at the same time honed in on my ability to “just say no” to the wasteful stuff that eats away at our precious time.  In a future post I will write about how I use trello for all my to do’s, what constitutes a wasteful email (more than you think), and also the empowering acceptance that “I can’t do it all”.  Those are additional tools/thoughts that make Inbox Zero work but are worthy of their own post.

But if I could leave you with one thought it would be to just press DELETE, start fresh and tame the email beast!  Hope this helps.