Ahhh, Inbox Zero. That elusive concept wherein you deal with emails as they come in and you never have more than three emails in your inbox (or, ideally, you have zero emails in your inbox!).
But how are you supposed to actually do it? Most of the strategies that I’ve seen—only look at your emails once per day, respond to emails the moment you check your inbox—don’t really work for me. And they probably don’t work from a practical standpoint in real life for you, either.
However! I have discovered some awesome secrets to achieving Inbox Zero, and I wanted to share them with you!
The Secret to Inbox Zero involves three components:
- Get a really awesome planner / notebook combo.
- If it takes less than two minutes to respond to someone, do it immediately.
- Go through your inbox every night before going to bed and categorize accordingly.
Here’s how to implement Inbox Zero:
1) Jot things down.
There is something very different between keeping emails in your inbox, and writing them down in a day planner. Get your emails out of your inbox and onto your day planner! Your inbox should not be your to-do list.
Instead, write down when you have meetings etc. in your planner, and add notes as needed related to meetings, deadlines, and so on.
These notes could even say “check XYZ’s email from <date>” so that you can go back to look at the email (which by this time would be in the archives of your email system) for more details if needed. You can also make a note in your notebook / planner if you need to follow-up with someone.
2) Don’t put things off.
Delete the email or archive it if there’s no need to reply. Personally, I really dislike deleting emails, because you really never know when you’re going to need to refer to it again.
Instead, I have piles of categories in my email system (I would say about 40 of them at this point) so that I can move the email into the correct folder. I can access it whenever I need to, but it’s not staring at me every time I open my email account.
So: when you receive that email and you don’t need to reply, file it away after you have jotted down the necessary notes into your planner.
If the email you’ve just received requires a simple “yes” or “no” answer, just respond to that person. Even if you need to construct a well-crafted email, just take the time to do it. It might take you five minutes, but it will be worth it to answer the email and get it out of your inbox rather than leave it to clutter up your inbox (which will consequently clutter your mind!).
If you have the answer to a question, then just give it to the other person. If you need to give it more time, leave it in your inbox to deal with in the evening, which brings us to our next point…
3) Be at Inbox Zero at least once each day.
Hopefully, after doing the above two steps, you will only have one to four emails in your inbox that need to be dealt with. And isn’t that so much more doable than having 20 or 50 sitting there, waiting to be sifted through?
Do the research or whatever you need to do to be able to craft a response to the person who emailed you, and ensure that you are satisfied with your response. If there’s a better time of day for you to do this than in the evening, by all means change it to the time of day that works for you.