If you feel like you’re drowning in emails, you’re not alone. The average full-time worker receives over 100 emails daily. Those emails add up quickly — before you know it, your inbox is overflowing and you can’t find certain emails when you need them.
We all need a method for managing our email inboxes so they don’t get out of hand. One of the most popular yet controversial methods is Inbox Zero. But, despite its name, there’s more to inbox zero than an empty inbox.
Here’s what you need to know about this approach to email management.
The Inbox Zero Misconception
Many people assume that the “zero” in “Inbox Zero” refers to the number of emails in your inbox. Though this approach does emphasize keeping your inbox empty — or nearly empty — that’s not its primary goal.
Spending all your time worrying about keeping your inbox empty is just as detrimental to your productivity as never organizing your inbox. Constantly checking your email to read incoming messages is not the Inbox Zero way.
What does Inbox Zero really mean?
Inbox Zero was coined by productivity expert Merlin Mann after launching his website 43folders.com in 2004.
He introduced this approach to address the massive volume of emails that many people deal with every day. Mann saw a problem: people were wasting time and energy checking their emails constantly. The Inbox Zero approach is a way to change that.
At its core, Inbox Zero is about adjusting your relationship with your inbox.
This approach aims to improve your productivity by reducing the time you spend thinking about your inbox.
According to the principles of Inbox Zero, you only touch each email once. Your inbox should work for you, not get in your way and pull your focus.
The five tenets of Inbox Zero
Some messages are more critical and time-sensitive than others.
You have limited time and must be careful how you spend it.
When it comes to email messages, less is more.
Let go of your email guilt.
Be honest and realistic about your inbox priorities.
Who is the Inbox Zero method right for?
Organization and productivity are personal. What works for one person might be useless for another. So who is the Inbox Zero method right for?
Some people are skeptical of this approach. For example, if you’re an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person, the Inbox Zero approach may cause you to lose the big picture on some of your email threads. In that case, keeping opened emails in your inbox would remind you of active email conversations. If an inbox full of emails doesn’t pull your focus at all, you may not need Inbox Zero.
Inbox Zero is best for people who stress about their email. If you get distracted when new emails arrive and treat your inbox as a to-do list, Inbox Zero might help you be more productive.
Benefits of Inbox Zero
Less email stress
A mountain of emails often comes with an equal amount of stress. Using Inbox Zero helps you stay on top of your inbox to reduce your email-related stress. No more feeling overwhelmed when you open your inbox.
Important emails get buried under pointless messages when your inbox gets out of hand. Inbox Zero ensures you keep your inbox clean and organized by regularly addressing all your unread emails.
The primary purpose of Inbox Zero is to improve productivity. By helping you efficiently address your emails, Inbox Zero frees you up to focus on other key tasks. Less time spent on email = more time for everything else you need to do.
How to start using the Inbox Zero method
If you’re interested in using the Inbox Zero method to get a handle on your inbox, these are some of the steps you should take:
1. Unsubscribe from messages you don’t read
Everyone’s guilty of signing up for newsletters or marketing emails and letting them build up in their inbox. If you’re not reading them, unsubscribe from these messages. They will only clutter your email and make it more challenging to focus on the emails that matter.
2. Choose set windows of time to check your email
Rather than dealing with every new email as it arrives in your inbox, choose a few windows of time to deal with unread emails throughout the day. Once in the morning and once in the evening is an excellent place to start. Of course, you can always fine-tune these windows later according to your needs and preferences. For example, some types of roles work with clients primarily through email, so you may actually need to set blocks of time throughout the day when you’re not in your inbox.
3. Eliminate notifications for new emails
It’ll be challenging at first to stick to your email-checking windows, and email notifications will only make that worse. Turn off email notifications so you don’t lose focus when a new email arrives. Your emails will wait until you get to them later.
4. Process emails as soon as you open them
How often have you opened an email, read it, and clicked away to do something else without addressing that email? Probably too many. Opening emails repeatedly before actually doing something with them is a waste of your time and focus.
The Inbox Zero approach recommends processing emails as soon as you open them.
To process an email, take one of these five actions:
Delete/archive: If you don’t need to take action on the email, delete or archive it. Only archive emails with information you may need to reference later. You can safely delete the others.
Delegate: If someone else is better suited to handling the email, forward the message to them, then delete or archive it.
Respond: Some emails require a response. If you can write a response within a few minutes, respond and delete or archive the email.
Defer: If responding to the email will take more than a few minutes, defer it until a better time. Add deferred emails to their own folder or create a task so you can keep track of them.
Do: If the email contains a task you can do within minutes, do it and delete or archive the email. If not, defer the email.
Streak will automate some of this email processing for you. The autoboxing feature in Streak automatically adds emails with your contacts to pipelines so you can clear up space in your inbox but still keep important emails and conversation history accessible in Streak.
Additionally, Streak adds inbox labels to each email that’s been added to one of your pipelines. These color-coded labels tell you what the conversation relates to so you immediately know how to process these emails.
How do you organize your email?
Inbox Zero is a (widely misunderstood) approach to email management. It focuses on reducing the amount of bandwidth email takes up in our brains, offering benefits like improved productivity and organization.
But Inbox Zero isn’t for everyone. Some people have very different strategies for email management. It’s all about learning what works best for you. So, will you give Inbox Zero a shot?