For many people, the email inbox sometimes seems to rule our lives both at home and at work. With Inbox Zero, you can end the tyranny of the inbox.
What is Inbox Zero? Inbox Zero is an approach created by productivity writer and “lifehacker” Merlin Mann that aims to keep the inbox empty at all times, or at least as close to empty as possible. This approach has been widely adopted by tech industry insiders and productivity experts like Tim Ferriss.
Inbox Zero – the Benefits
Proponents believe that the main benefit of the Inbox Zero approach is the increased productivity that can be achieved when one is able to focus on the task at hand, rather than succumbing to the “tyranny of the urgent” that email can sometimes impose. It places limits around email and makes it possible to focus on the tasks you set for yourself, rather than those that are set before you by others.
Five Simple Steps to Inbox Zero
Following the Inbox Zero approach, email is only checked and processed at a few specific times during the day. The approach involves taking one of five actions with any email you receive: Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer, and Do.
Let’s take a closer look at these actions:
- Delete: Deleting is the first step and arguably most important step towards achieving Inbox Zero. Think of it as weeding out all the junk or emails that are not relevant to your business or job. Err on the side of deleting when you are not sure: the goal is to take a first pass through email where you will delete or archive any messages that will not result in an immediate or later action.
- Delegate: If you receive an email that should be handled by a co-worker or your boss, forward it immediately. Getting it out of your inbox as quickly as possible will allow you focus on your responsibilities, and lets the appropriate person focus on theirs. Once forwarded, archive the message.
- Respond: If you find and email that you can respond to within two minutes or less, reply to it immediately. It may be helpful to set a timer in the beginning for e-mails you think that can be written and sent in under two minutes. You will quickly learn what emails you can and cannot handle in that time frame.
- Defer: If an email will take longer than two minutes, you should defer it. This part of the process requires some setup upon implementing Inbox Zero: create an ‘Action’ or ‘Response Required’ folder and put these deferred emails into that folder. Then select a specific time that you will respond to these emails. It can be done daily or weekly, but it is important to stay on top of them, as there may be some that are time sensitive. For time sensitive emails, it may be helpful to create a reminder.
- Do: This is the final step of the Inbox Zero process. Although your goal in this process is to stop checking your e-mail so frequently, it does not mean that you should ignore your inbox. It is important to do the needed actions or obtain the responses required for your e-mails.
Inbox Zero has proven to be effective for many users, including our own team at Tolar Systems. According to Phillip Poarch, Director of Operations for Tolar Systems, “We have everyone on our team watch Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero video during onboarding. I use the system religiously and try to apply it across all of my inboxes and tasks I have open.”
Inbox Zero: It’s a Mindset
If your email inbox looks like most people’s – always open, with a constantly growing backlog of old emails – Inbox Zero might seem difficult to implement. But actually, Inbox Zero isn’t really about the number of emails in your inbox or the amount of time it is open. It is more about a mindset. According to Mann’s Inbox Zero approach, zero is really about “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.”
Inbox Zero can help you get your brain out of your inbox, and revolutionize inbox organization and productivity. Try it out for a couple weeks and watch it transform your business and life