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General tech

What is inbox zero and how to execute it?

Article by
Dave Connor

The interesting world of inbox zero – where zeroes are sought and embraced

As a technology solution provider, we are often approached by business clients and yacht owners, asking us for email management solutions. This is what they have to say:

“There are just clusters of emails lying in wait, whenever we open our outlook, Gmail or Apple Mail. We cannot focus on our primary tasks and the majority of our hours get served over mining and answering through those emails. It leads to loss of productivity and in truth, peace of mind, as we are always occupied by the worries of an important email cobwebbed somewhere in the digital piles.”

These concerns are genuine and widespread.

According to a survey by Adobe, an average office worker spends about 30 hours each week on emails due to inefficient management and organization of these electronic letters.

And then we complain about failing to achieve our targets because the workload was too much


Some of us are found complaining that they can’t manage work-life balance as the professional stress is too intense.
For our clients and readers of this blog, we suggest One Simple solution…

Use inbox zero…

What is inbox zero?

Inbox zero mail

This term was first coined by Merlin Mann, a world renowned productivity guru, as a speaker in Google Talk about a decade ago. The approach focuses on 5 steps regarding how to treat an email in your inbox and these steps are:

Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer or Do

Explaining Inbox Zero in Merlin Mann’s own words,

The practice is about how to reclaim your email, your attention and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many messages are in your inbox – it’s how much of our own brain is in that inbox. Especially, when you don’t want it to be. That’s it!

In non-less metaphorical terms, inbox zero is a set of strategy and practices which allow you to efficiently organize and manage your inbox.

And we are not the only ones who are the advocates of Merlin Mann’s theory…

What do industry experts say about inbox zero?

Allan Møller Larsen, project manager at Siemens Wind Power

“In 2009, I implemented Inbox Zero in my work email and almost immediately, I experienced a lower level of stress and a higher level of productivity. It is not actually about sorting your emails; it is about taking immediate actions which eventually translate to better organization and management.”

David Allen, the author of productivity bible Getting Things Done

“You can’t deal with new things appropriately if you feel bugged by and bothered by other stuff that’s lying fallow and pulling on your psyche. Inbox Zero doesn’t mean you’ve finished all the work in there, just that you’ve defined what the work is and organized it appropriately. It’s not surprising Inbox Zero has taken off.”

Ellen Bard, a psychologist by profession

“I wasn’t always into this. But when I finally tried it, it took me time, I was glad with the results.”

So, how do you execute Inbox Zero?

Techniques for inbox zero

To practice Inbox Zero, you need two things: first you need a system or strategy on which to categorize and classify your emails and the second thing you need is time investment at the start. Once you have established a system and invested time, sorting your initial emails, the process will then automate for you.

How to design the system?

Make a habit of NOT checking your email client regularly

Do not check email regularly

Yes, this may sound a bit weird but you really need to lay it off. You cannot keep checking your email client at frequent intervals as it would keep your mind occupied and you will be diverted from the actual tasks which should be your priority. You should assign a window, during which you are feeling a temporary slump, for addressing emails. This could be at noon, 3 p.m. or near the closing hours. Claire Diaz-Ortiz, the author of Design Your Day, supports this theory.

Assign rules and divide your inbox into sub folders

When you are dealing with emails on a recurrent basis, you can set some rules on how to treat them and then categorize them into subfolders accordingly.

· For instance, you can set a rule that all newsletters which you receive should automatically be classified as “read”, since newsletters are not priority emails for most users.
· Similarly, emails received from priority contacts can be marked as “important”.
· Likewise, emails which are not directly addressing you, like the ones where you have been CCed, can be classified as emails with low priority.

· You can set a “two-minute rule”, recommended by David Allen, where you will only answer the emails with prompt which can be replied to within two minutes. Those which would take longer and are not important can be categorized for “later review”. Those which would take longer than two minutes but are important can be categorized under “requires response”.
· If you feel someone else can answer the email in a more prompt and effective manner, forward those emails to them.
· If you have emails which correspond to an ongoing project, categorize them under “emails to be monitored”. If you have emails which concern a completed task, move them to a “reference” sub folder.

There are plenty of rules which you can design and implement and they would all vary from one user to another.

Unsubscribe from email contact lists

Many times, we have to subscribe to different websites just to access a white paper or an article that is of interest to us at that moment. This results in multiple subscriptions to different sites, the email contents of which are no more important to us. As such unsubscribe from memberships which are no more relevant. To assist you in the process, you can use “unroll me”. This tool accesses your inbox by your permission and lists all the different emails which you have received from subscribers. You can then unsubscribe the ones you want to get rid-off, while keep the ones which are important to you. It also allows you to combine all the subscriptions in one daily email.

Other useful tools for inbox zero

Tools like Slick or Hipchat can be used for private chat and instant messaging activities that will prevent daily routine emails like lunch invitations and small requests, from occupying unnecessary space in your inbox.

Similarly, you can use tools like Inbox Pause, to restrict any new incoming emails until you have sorted and organized the current emails in your inbox.

Archive the remaining emails

Once you are done with all the previous steps, you can then archive the remaining emails in your outlook or Gmail. There are different tools like Microsoft Online Archive and Exchange Online Archiving which is integrated in some Office 365 plans.

The implementation of Inbox Zero takes time but once you are into it, with a clearly defined system, the process becomes automated and the results are productive.