Is Inbox Zero the answer to conquering your emails?
How many emails do you have in your inbox? 47, 259 or 21,858? None of these numbers look like an Inbox Zero! Each number looks more like a potential nightmare and it’s not surprising that emails and paper clutter are mentioned as the biggest organising headache. Is Inbox Zero the solution to this?
What is Inbox Zero?
Let’s first look at what Inbox Zero is. For some, it is the heaven on earth. For others, and that’s more the majority, it’s a strenuous and often exhausting process to manage your emails. Every email is dealt with and moved out of your inbox, leaving hardly any or zero emails. The final result of a seeing only the emails that require your attention sounds like a dream to many. Yet, the way to getting there may require enormous adjustments.
How do you get started?
Inbox Zero focuses on processing emails in the most efficient way. As such, you first decided if the email is actionable. If it’s a NO, then delete or archive it. If it’s a YES, you’d choose one of these four possibilities:
- Do (Respond)
Have you heard of David Allen’s Getting Things Done? He is encouraging you to only handle an email once. So let’s look at what options there are.
Emails that are out of date, newsletters or anything you don’t want can be easily deleted. This often takes less than a few seconds.
Emails that can be handled by someone else (e.g. your assistant, a project member) should be forwarded to them.
You may receive requests for approval which need to be given by someone else (e.g. your boss, a different manager). Forward them to actioning.
Create a calendar entry to work any email requiring actioning at a later time. Give yourself enough time to complete deferred emails to avoid any last minute rush before the deadline.
Just do it. If it’s less than 2 minutes, simply respond to the email and be done with it.
Once you’ve actioned the email, move it into your email archive. Don’t worry. You can still go back to it should you ever need it again. Until then, it frees up space in your inbox and you’ll only see the emails that are awaiting your actions.
Barbara Hemphill once told me to start with today and then focus on tomorrow before you address yesterday.
If you’re like one of our clients, Ms M&M, with over 200,000 of emails in her inbox, start with the emails you’re receiving today. As new ones are coming in, address those. We set some time aside with Ms M&M to get her comfortable with the new system and then tackled the older emails. She doesn’t practice Inbox Zero and Ms M&M is happy having around 50 in her inbox.
What are the struggles?
The Minimalists put it very nicely:
“Just like getting rid of your possessions,
deciding what email is important and what email isn’t forces you to choose.”
In theory, you should be able to make a decision within seconds and pick one of the 4 actions (delete, delegate, defer or do) for your emails.
In reality, it looks a whole lot different. Perhaps I’ll need that email later on? What if I reply and archive it now and don’t get a response? How will I know that I need to follow up? Out of sight, out of mind or was it the other way around.
We are too afraid of making the wrong decision that we don’t take any and let email take over our life.
Laura Stack is an advocate of making good choices when it comes to the emails in your inbox. For her, this also includes finding and sticking to a system that works for you!
While Inbox Zero can a be too strenuous process for some, you can take other steps to control the flood of emails:
The more emails you sent, the more you get or so it sometimes seems.
- Process your emails at specific times only. It gives you more focus for your projects and reduces the email ping pong.
- Create a folder for newsletters and set up a rule for such emails to immediately be moved there. Visit it once a day or even less. Your inbox doesn’t get cluttered with these often trivial emails and can easily delete them.
- Unsubscribe from unwanted emails. How often do you receive newsletters and you don’t even remember signing up in the first place? Don’t just delete them, unsubscribe.
Don’t be a slave to your inbox. Tell us! What specific step will you take today to reclaim your inbox?
Until next time,