How I Reach Inbox Zero Every Day (yes it's possible!)

productivity systems Jan 29, 2019

How do you feel about your inbox? Does the idea of having your inbox at zero at the end of each day seem possible? In this post I outline the strategies I use to keep on top of my inbox daily. Note though that I thrive on structure and systems - if you don’t so much, then this may not be for you!

Our inboxes have become both a source of anxiety, and in some cases a ‘badge of honour’. “Oh is that all you get, I get at least 200 emails everyday” or “I’ve currently got 3000 unread emails in my inbox” << ever heard someone say something to that effect? Like it’s some kind of status to have mountains of emails piling up. That it somehow symbolises your importance or your success. And let’s be honest, the majority of those emails will be either unnecessary or promotional!

Email doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) take over too much of your day. Here are my top tips:

1. Reduce the number of emails coming in to begin with

The first step is to ensure that you aren't receiving unnecessary emails to begin with.

Notification emails - consider these and if they can be turned off.  Do you really need email notifications from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc?  Consider either turning these off, or changing the settings to a summary email sent less frequently.

Newsletters/Subscriptions - How many Newsletters are you subscribed to that you never read?  If your inbox is really out of control, you may want to consider using something like unroll.me to unsubscribe from lists that you are no longer interested in.  Otherwise, assess the emails that are in your inbox and unsubscribe from anything that you know you don't need to read any more.

Tip: consider also the emails that you keep saving to ‘come back and read’ but never do! This is simply FOMO - if you need that info at a later date you can always go and find it. IT doesn’t need to be cluttering your inbox in the mean-time.

Project/team updates and communications

If you and your team are still using email to communicate, please stop. Do yourselves a huge favour and get started with a simple chat system. I use and highly recommend Slack - it’s free! And will massively reduce the amount of back and forth happening in your inbox.

Separate Business vs Personal emails

Maintain 2 separate email addresses. This is a game changer. It means that you can keep things separate and your business email isn't flooded with irrelevant emails each day. You can easily ignore your personal inbox, and see only the important client emails.

This makes it much easier to manage communications and ensure that nothing gets lost amongst dozens of newsletters etc.

So you could have one email address that is for BUSINESS only.  Use this email to liaise with clients, and to create logins / account etc for business systems.

And a second email account for your personal email inbox. This can be used for all personal emails (for friends / family, and things like personal appointments, travel etc).  I also use this email for anything I optin to. (Tip, you could separate optins into a third email address)

If you do want to view all of your emails (business and personal inboxes) combined in one location, you can do this on your iPhone.

2. Have a routine / schedule for checking email

Throughout my working life, I had always had my email open constantly with notifications/pop-ups and would be seeing and responding to emails all throughout the day.  Over the last 2 years I have changed this process - I now have all email notifications turned off (on my phone and computer!) and check in on my business emails generally 2 - 3 times a day (first thing in the morning, middle of the day, and in the afternoon) and my personal emails once.  

The difference this has made to my productivity has been huge. I'm now able to concentrate on tasks for stretches of time, instead of being distracted by seeing emails come through and ending up doing several tasks at once or going down a rabbit hole.

Tip: If this feels like a big stretch for you, do it in stages. You might start by turning off the ‘ping’ sound on your phone. Then turn off the actual notifications etc.

3. Create processes to deal with emails

Knowing how all types of emails are handled will firstly give you structure and outcome when it comes to checking your email, but will also come in handy if you later decide to outsource any part of your inbox management.

For business emails I suggest:

- Read and respond to any emails that require a quick response and then delete/file immediately

- Emails that contain info that you need or something that you need to remember should also be dealt with straight away into whatever filing system that you use. For event / appointment related info, it can be added directly to your calendar. Anything else for example related to a client project can be added to Evernote, Google Drive, CRM etc - it doesn't matter what your system is, but you need to have somewhere that you manage all of your client info - leaving it sitting in your inbox is just asking for things to be overlooked and your inbox to cause you to feel overwhelm.

- Any invoices or receipts for purchases / subscriptions should be added straight into a dedicated folder - This could then be reviewed once a week (or whenever you do your bookkeeping) to save / record as required

- ‘AA to read’ - Setup a folder specifically for any other misc emails that come through that you might want to look at, but aren't urgent to look at straight away.  It might be something like an update to a system you use or a special offer. Review this folder once a week, and then delete or save info as needed.

Tip: The ‘AA to read’ folder is named that way simply so that the folder sits at the top of the list alphabetically.

Very occasionally I will leave an email in the inbox to the next day.

Personal Emails

I’d suggest not checking your personal emails any more than once per day.

The majority of these emails are subscriptions / newsletters, so for each email consider whether you need to be receiving it, and be sure to constantly unsubscribe from the ones that you don't need to be receiving any more.

Folders for filing your personal emails could include:

  • ‘AA to read’ folder for thing you want to come back to
  • Folders for personal items - I personally have folders for: bills, house, health/medical, travel, banking/finances, and logins.

Implementing the above should have you well on your way to managing your emails with ease. I do want to note that some people don’t do email well, and that is ok! If your inbox is a place of stress and you can’t seem to find a system that works, consider outsourcing it instead.



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