Feeling overwhelmed by email? Try Inbox Zero.

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | July 2012

A few weeks ago, my family and I took a trip to Paris. I was really looking forward to time away from work and my regular routine. The one thing I was dreading though was the massive amount of email that I’d need to deal with once I returned.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, email jumped the shark and became a chore, and not the useful tool it had once been. New email comes in constantly, and it’s tough to even stay on top of it. Like so many of you, I receive hundreds of messages every day. When did dealing with email become a part-time job?

That’s why I was really dreading coming back to an overflowing inbox. I needed a plan for dealing with my email. I made a decision not to check it at all while I was gone. I even considered declaring “email bankruptcy” and deleting all messages I received during my trip. I decided against this idea, because the thought of potentially missing an important message bothered me. Instead, I opted for quickly checking my email, (I know, I couldn’t stay committed to not checking) each morning and deleting, archiving, forwarding all messages and getting to, drumroll please...inbox zero!

What is Inbox Zero? In 2007, Merlin Mann developed the philosophy of inbox zero. Basically, it’s the concept of reclaiming and managing your email in an effective, action-oriented way. If you haven’t been practicing inbox zero, maybe it’s time to give it a shot. Get started by following these simple steps.

Practice action-based email. When you get a message, choose one of five actions:

  1. Delete or archive - Don’t be afraid to delete.
  2. Delegate - If someone else is more capable of handling the email, forward it to them.
  3. Respond - If you can respond in five minutes or less, do it!
  4. Defer - If the email doesn’t need to be answered until a later date, defer.
  5. Do - If the email requires a task and it can be done in five minutes or less, do it now!

Don’t check your email constantly.
Before practicing this philosophy, I was guilty of obsessively checking my email (several times an hour). This habit constantly interrupted my workflow and kept me from getting into a good rhythm. Be deliberate when checking your email. Try checking it only three times a day. For example, check it first thing in the morning as your starting your day, right before lunch, and at the end of the day. This will not interfere with your ability to get things done.

Automate, automate, automate
Make use of rules, folders & labels, but don’t overuse them. If a process can be automated, do it. If you use Gmail, be conscious about implementing too many rules, folders and labels. Gmail allows you to search your email by keyword, so it’s usually easy to find messages. I regularly use two folders - “Read & Review” and “Action.” I forward messages that I want to read later to the “R&R” folder. Messages that require action but take longer than five minutes to handle, go to the “Action” folder. That way, I can go to these folders and handle all tasks or items that I need to review at once.

Inbox zero has helped me save time and energy. In the past, it was not unusual for me to have several hundred emails in my inbox. It is so liberating to see my inbox at zero. I’ve noticed that I don’t have that overwhelmed feeling when I’m dealing with email too.

If you don’t practice inbox zero yet, I urge you to try it. Reclaim your inbox now - it may change your life. Okay, probably not change your life ,but it will help you like email a lot more.

Topics: Email Marketing, Productivity Hacks

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