Inbox Zero

Today I thought I would take a break from my usual musings to share about the most mundane of everyday things, email. Love it or hate it our lives are now full of it. It has replaced so many other forms of communication. Many prefer it to calling now.

The demand for response times seems to be increasing too. No longer is it acceptable for a company to not reply to you within 24 hours. I also notice that in most work environments there is an expectation of a response within hours if not minutes. Has anyone ever come up to you in your office and asked if you got their email which was sent about 10 minutes ago?!

With the proliferation of email there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of advice for how to handle it. It is not uncommon for people to receive hundreds a week. How do you possibly stay on top of that kind of a workload whilst managing the rest of life?

There are various approaches but one approach I have turned to in the last year or two is “Inbox Zero”. I’m not sure if there is a definitive definition but I plan to share what I do! If it is helpful, great!

The basic concept is that you regularly clear out your email inbox – the goal being to get to “Inbox Zero” where you have 0 emails in there. Sounds impossible when you first get introduced to the idea!

However I would now say that most days my inbox is at zero. If I can do it, so can you.

So here is how I work it:

  1. I have turned off all email notifications on my devices. Letting other people interrupt you every time your phone tings is a sure way to feel out of control and lose momentum on whatever you were working on. Focus matters. Distraction hurts.
  2. Check emails regularly in short bursts and close email app when done
    • Only check emails when you intend to actually deal with them then and there. Most people get into the habit of checking and saying they will deal with it later.
  3. For each email open it
    • If you can possibly reply now do. Force yourself to do something now if you have any option. Each time you delay a reply you waste time and energy as you will have reread it again.
    • If you can’t reply now, add an item to your todo list for whatever needs to happen next, then file the email into an archive.
    • If you think you might want to refer to this email again – file it into an archive folder structure. If you will not need to refer to this again just delete it.
  4. Rejoice each time your inbox hits zero!

Other tips:

  • Keep on top of it – each day or at the end of the week work to get it back to zero
  • Don’t use your inbox as a todo list. Create a separate todo list.
  • When replying to long emails – keep it short. This tends to break the cycle of ever longer emails! Suggest a face to face if that will save 20 minutes of email crafting.
  • Just deleting every email without responding might not be the smartest way to go!

What other tips do you have for email?

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