The Guide to Achieving Inbox Zero
Inbox Zero. To many, it’s a mythical number and an impossible dream when it comes to emails. It represents freedom, a clean slate and ultimate productivity. There is an audible sigh of relief that the work is done and there are no more emails to answer.
However, most people are completely overwhelmed and stressed at the very thought of their email inbox. The large number looms over their head and keeps them from feeling the most productive they could be.
So how do you go from an overwhelmed, overcrowded inbox to magical zero? First, know that it CAN be done. The key to getting an inbox under control is to find a system that works for you. If you haven’t tamed your inbox yet, it’s because you haven’t found the right system.
Need help? Here’s a helpful guide to reclaim your inbox and productivity.
1. Consolidate Your Email Locations
One common cause for the email overwhelm is the various places that emails can be spread. With several email accounts and devices, it can become bothersome to keep track of everything.
First, consolidate emails into one place so that they’re easily managed. It’s sometimes necessary to have more than one email address, such as a separate work-only email or an email specifically dedicated to spam. However, if you find that you have multiple unnecessary accounts, combine them into one.
2. Set a Specific Time to Check Your Email
Setting an email schedule is incredibly important in driving productivity. Putting aside time each day has a dual purpose: you can answer emails proactively and spend the rest of your time away from the distractions of your inbox.
Studies show how unproductive it can be to open yourself up to multiple distractions. In fact, it takes an average of 25 minutes to regain concentration after it’s been broken. Considering how many emails are received on an average day, this can lead to a large amount of wasted time.
Make the most out of your day and set aside specific times to check your email. Two to three times per day is usually sufficient enough to answer in a timely manner. You can also adjust depending on your job and the importance of your emails. During this time, devote yourself entirely to concentrating on answering emails. It’ll make you more efficient, and less likely to lose an email you open and forget to answer.
If you want to get the most out of your day, keep your email switched off until set times. Many people worry that if they turn their emails off, they may miss important emails that need answering right away. However, in practice, there are very few times that need immediate attention within the hour.
3. Never Touch an Email Twice
Once you sit down during your designated time, don’t leave emails unfinished. Once you open one, take the time to make sure it’s handled. Reading emails multiple times is a waste of time – don’t give yourself unnecessary work later on.
Laura Stack refers to handling emails as one of the The Six D’s:
Discard. Do not be afraid to trash an email. Get rid of it immediately if you do not need it.
Delegate. Decide if it is something you really need to respond to. It’s OK to not respond to an email if it doesn’t need one.
Do. If an email can be answered in less than 2 minutes, do it right away. No excuses, just get it done and out of your life.
If an email takes longer than 2 minutes, put it on your to-do list for later and archive it. Don’t leave it in your inbox as a to-do list. That is how inboxes spin quickly out of control. It can be intimidating when the number starts to add up, making you want to avoid it all over again and undo all of your hard work.
Date. Set a deadline for yourself to get these to-do emails done. This way it will get done and not come back to haunt you.
Drawer. File away emails you may want to refer to later. Then it will not clutter your inbox, but you still have it.
Deter. Unsubscribe from useless emails. Most emails that clutter up an inbox fall into this category. Make your inbox less intimidating by quickly dispatching the spam and keeping it at bay.
By deciding and dealing with your emails head on, you can both conquer your inbox and make way for a cleaner inbox in the future. Dealing with emails more than once doubles the work you would otherwise have to spend on it. You will also appreciate that you no longer have to feel dread about an email or hope you haven’t forgotten to reply.
Dealing with emails immediately also eliminates the need for any fancy sorting or organizing your inbox. Because they are dispensed with immediately as they are touched, you won’t have to worry about color-coordinating or making it look like your inbox is clear when in reality it isn’t.
4. Keep Emails Short
Emails aren’t letters; they don’t require drawn-out responses. A rule of thumb is that emails should be able to be answered in 5 seconds or less. If you find that your answer requires a much longer response than that, you may need to consider a phone call instead.
It takes pressure off when you can keep emails short and to the point. The 5-sentence rule not only makes it easier for you to compose an email, but it also makes it faster for the recipient to read and understand the contents.
Save yourself and your recipient time that could be spent elsewhere: keep emails and responses brief.
5. Use Technology
You don’t have to hire a VA to answer emails or hack at it alone. There are many apps and resources to make wading through your inbox significantly easier.
Some to consider:
Streak: This app allows you to write templated responses for specific groups to shorten your email writing time. It also allows you to have certain emails sent back to you. This way you can have it out of your inbox until you need it.
Boomerang: Boomerang can delay and automatically send out your message at the time you choose. Particularly useful if one of your “set times” to send out messages is early or late in the day. It can also be useful for turning off your email and sending out emails on your behalf.
Pop up notifications. If you have a boss that cannot wait, or clients you need to respond to right away, set your pop up notifications to alert you when you receive an email from them. This way, you can stay connected when it matters.
Canned response. If you find yourself writing the same responses to emails over and over again, setting up canned responses will save you time.
BitBounce: As we mentioned, junk mail is one of the worst offenders when it comes to you productivity. What if there was a way to block spam email AND get paid at the same time? BitBounce does just that! Using BitBounce is easy: sign up in minutes, connect to your existing email client, and set a “whitelist” of people who can contact you. Anyone sending email outside of this list is then required to pay you a small fee to have their email delivered. Anyone else is filtered into an “unpaid” email folder you can read later.
Getting to Inbox Zero takes dedication, but with the right system and tools in place you can make it happen. Find the peace of mind you deserve and tame your inbox!