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How to Manage Your Emails with Inbox Zero

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Have you ever felt the urge to close your inbox immediately after opening it?

Closing the laptop as soon as seeing it.gif

Just looking at the sheer number of emails pulled up in the inbox can be an overwhelming experience for anyone. You may look at it once and put the email in the back of your mind to get back to it later, but this only adds to the suffocating feeling.

There is a way to take control of this madness and keep it on a leash, which is the inbox zero method. Inbox zero is an email management system created to help you efficiently check and reply to emails and keep your mind free of stress.

Once you have experienced the aspects of a minimal and organized inbox, there is no going back. And here, we'll tell you how you can attain inbox zero and keep it that way.

Table of contents

What is the inbox zero method?

Inbox zero is an email management system established by Merlin Mann to help employees effectively manage their time dealing with emails daily.

Merlin Mann was inspired by the book called "Getting Things Done" by David Allen on time management. He wanted to efficiently manage his time which led to creating the Inbox Zero system.

The goal of inbox zero was to create a daily routine or system that helps optimize the time employees spend dealing with their emails daily.

According to this system, a person has to take any of these five actions for each email: deleting, delegating, responding to emails, or archiving them in a separate folder to deal with them later.

However, this doesn't mean out of sight out of mind; it is just categorized based on what action is required for it, which you can get to later on when you have scheduled to do it.

By following this method, you can ensure that your inbox stays nearly empty and will only have emails from the previous day and not be filled with old and unnecessary emails.

Inbox zero method

What are the benefits of inbox zero?

The inbox zero systems are created to help people optimize the way they deal with their emails every day, and here is how it does that:

  • Makes checking your email a stress-free process

When you have an inbox zero, the amount of clutter in the inbox is drastically reduced, which can help employees not get stressed when they open their inbox.

Also, they don't have to constantly think about emails that they have to respond to but rather deal with them at an allotted time every day.

  • Efficient use of time

According to the method, you would spend a few minutes daily deleting unnecessary emails, categorizing and replying to the urgent emails in your inbox.

This reduces the time you would have spent distracted by unwanted and unimportant emails.

  • Emails are dealt with daily all at once

People usually use their emails as a to-do list for the day and keep returning to it, only to be distracted by new emails.

But using inbox zero, you only touch the email once and either delete, archive, or reply to it. This way, you don't use your inbox as a to-do list and only check it once or twice a day.

How can you achieve inbox zero?

If you are going to, for the first time, try to get your email inbox to zero, then allocate a few hours to allow time to complete setup everything. Of course, the time it takes depends on how many emails you already have in your inbox.

Here are the tasks you need to do if you are aiming to reach inbox zero for the first time:

  • Delete all the unnecessary emails

What qualifies as an unnecessary email entirely depends on you and what you think is valuable. In general, you can first go ahead and select all the promotional emails, social emails, and notification emails and delete them. Don't worry yet; they'll still be there in the bin if, for a few days, you feel like you need a specific email.

  • Unsubscribe

You can unsubscribe from all emails as you delete them. Yes, it may seem tedious but know that you'll live stress-free later on if you do it this time. Unsubscribe from marketing emails, newsletters, etc. that used to be exciting to read but no longer excite you or give you value.

If you have too many emails to unsubscribe from, you can use an application like Unroll.me, which will combine all the email lists you are a part of into a single list from which you can unsubscribe quickly.

  • Archive the necessary emails

Keep all the emails you feel will be helpful in the future as you don't want to lose valuable information.

You can create a few labels or folders to organize the emails while archiving them, but if you feel it is too tiresome, skip it for now and just hit archive for all the leftover emails.

Even if you don't put it into folders and organize the email, you can easily find it using the search element in the email client.

  • Create folders and labels

Sometimes not all emails can be dealt with at that moment, so create separate folders within the inbox to archive your emails so you can get to them later.

Create folders customized to your needs and what you want to refer to, which comes with time as you figure out what works for you.

For example, you can create three main folders: ' Respond,' 'Read through,' and 'Pending.' Pending is meant for emails you have delegated to someone else who has yet to take action. You can put all the newsletters and announcements in the read-through folder.

  • Delegate emails

If you feel like the email can be best answered by someone else, delegate it to them, archive it in the "Pending" label, and only remove it once the person has done the task in the email.

Best practices to maintain inbox zero

Now that you have cleaned up your inbox, it's up to you to ensure that you keep it that way. According to a survey by Superhuman, nearly 2/5 of remote workers fail to get inbox zero. So, here are some best practices you can follow to make sure you achieve and maintain inbox zero:

1. Don't leave your inbox open on your screen

If you have your inbox always open, it tempts you to check it often, making you distracted from work and wasting time.

So, only open your inbox once or twice a day at scheduled times to ensure that you deal with emails efficiently.

2. Only touch the email once

When an email comes into your inbox, check if it's necessary or not and either delete or archive it into your folders.

But, if you feel that you can reply to the email within 2 minutes or so, immediately respond to it. If you can't do it in two minutes, archive it into a folder to respond later.

Gmail tip: If you use Gmail, you can click on the "move to" button to put it into your folder as it labels and archives it at once. There is a keyboard shortcut hack for this as well; you can click on v on your keyboard for "move to."

3. Allocate time to check and respond to emails

Make sure you put aside time daily to read emails you have archived and reply to any that require a response. This way, people who email you are assured that they will get a response within a day at a particular time.

And you will also not be overwhelmed throughout the day thinking about emails, and you can rest easy knowing you will tackle it at that time every day.

4. Stop using your email as a to-do list

Do not use your emails as a to-do list or reminder of the tasks you need to do.

Instead, pick the tasks you need to do from the emails and schedule them on your to-do list. That list can be on Notion, notes app, or even pen and paper.

After completing the task given, you can respond later to that email.

5. Don't obsess about how many emails are in your inbox

Zero is just an ideal number, but it may not be the reality for most of us, which is entirely ok. It's not about the numbers; it's about the efficiency of the person's time spent in the inbox.

So don't focus on the number of emails in your inbox and try to deal with the emails in a manner that works for you.

6. Keep the number of inbox folders to a minimum

Don't get sucked into organizing all the emails neatly into different labels, and use a minimum of 3-5 folders/ labels.

Going overboard with the folders will waste more time as even if you don't organize them, you can still find them easily using the search feature in the email client.

Declutter your inbox today

Inbox zero is a great way to organize your inbox and streamline how you deal with emails. It may not be for everyone, so the only way to know is to try it out. And if it doesn't work out for you, just let it go. Try out inbox zero to help you get a handle on your inbox for the upcoming year.

Did you know that clearing up the unwanted emails in your inbox is beneficial not only for you but also for the planet? Read our guide on email carbon footprint to find out how.

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