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  • Writer's pictureDevin Lee

How To: Inbox Zero

Not gonna lie - I may have decided to write this entire blog post just so I can brag. I have 3 - 4 email inboxes at any given time, and I make a point to get each and everyone one of them to INBOX ZERO every day.

Ah yes, the elusive and mythological inbox zero. Onlookers gasp in disbelief. How DOES she do it?

Lean in closer friends... and I will tell you my secrets.

Archive, archive, archive

If you are brand new to organizing your email, you may have one of those inboxes that say Unread (549,178,334). How the f*$& can you possibly make time to go through each and every one?

Like all magic tricks - the truth is not that interesting: You don't.

When your inbox is impossibly full, 99% of those emails are gone forever anyway. It's time to file for email bankruptcy and just start archiving those suckers. The neat thing about archiving is that your emails don't go away forever. They just get filed away so you never have to look at them. And if you REALLY need to find an old email - a simple search bar is waiting for you.

Be ruthless with your non-important emails

Play it fast and loose with that unsubscribe button. If you do not read a newsletter at least 75% of the time it hits your inbox - UNSUBSCRIBE. Yes, even that charity you donated to three years ago. It does not make you a bad person for unsubscribing. It just means you are a more honest bad person.

I kid! But seriously. Any company worth its salt will track newsletter statistics. When you unsubscribe, it lets them know that their content is not compelling. Which (hopefully) will lead them to create better content, allowing them to make better use of their time, which will then cause their business to thrive.

Kind boundaries, my friends.

Set expectations with your team and colleagues

If you want to take this to your team, I recommend reading the book Don't Reply All. If you are getting too many emails... maybe the problem is not you, but other people (isn't that fun?!)

Go ahead and ask your coworkers and teammates to stop...

  1. hitting Reply all when they don't need to

  2. responding to you just to say Thanks! Got it! etc

  3. sending several little emails when they could just send you one longer one

  4. if they are asking for support... check to see that they are doing due diligence to figure things out on their own first

DO NOT use your email inbox as a to-do list

I will say this one more time. DO NOT USE YOUR INBOX AS A TO-DO LIST. Yes - you can send yourself emails as reminders. I know many that make great use of the "snooze" feature. But do NOT let an email sit in your email box just to "remind" you to do something. Like all the things on your physical desktop that disappear from sight after they have been sitting there for a week, so will all of your left-behind emails. Here is a flow chart of how it goes down:

Reference Folder

THIS is the secret weapon. The magic bullet. This is how I get away with it. I have a folder in my inbox labeled !Reference (the ! is so that it is always at the top in my list of email folders). Anything I am not ready to deal with yet goes in there.

But BE AWARE. This is NOT a junk drawer for you to shove things you don't want to think about anymore. This ONLY works if you also add a corresponding task in your to-do list system so that it is not forgotten. It may help to also periodically browse through this folder to make sure nothing is forgotten. This should folder should never be too full.

Time Management

Okay... you know how I said that I get to Inbox Zero every single day? That was a lie. I'm SORRY! But If I just said "most" days you wouldn't be as hooked? Right?

Here is the thing - this entire system works best when you dedicate a solid chunk of time each day to going through your inbox. I like to spend the first part of my day going through emails, and I don't stop until the job is done. I make it a priority.

But there are just some days that I truly don't have the time to get through it all. Some days, I need to just scan my emails, deal with the important ones, and leave the rest for later.

And that's okay. I know that inbox zero is my default and that those emails will not be left for long.

Just be nice to yourself

Ya know? At the end of the day -

  1. You don't owe someone an immediate response (usually)

  2. You aren't a doctor - no one is going to die if you don't respond right away (usually)

See inbox zero as a game. Rejoice when you reach it, try again when you don't.

And if you TRULY cannot reach inbox zero no matter what you do, maybe this is a jumping-off point to reexamine other areas in your life. Do you need to reevaluate your responsibilities with your supervisor? Do you need to hire help to delegate to? Your life should never be about chasing that e-dragon. Your life should be about, ya know, other stuff, like in your garden or throwing around the ole pigskin with your kid!


Looking to add more ease and space to your calendar? Click here to learn how you can plan your entire next quarter in just ONE day!

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