Inbox zero is a powerful productivity tool that allows you to manage the dozens if not hundreds of emails you may receive each day.
It reduces the mental time you spend figuring out what to do with a mass of emails.
Inbox zero also helps you become confident that you’ve handled every email in your inbox and that nothing has slipped through the cracks.
Here are eight tips for achieving inbox zero:
1. Process Email at the Same Time Each Day
Implementing inbox zero doesn’t mean that you need to spend hours handling emails. Rather, it’s far more productive to avoid having a massive backlog of unread emails.
The way to do this is to spend a block of time each day handling and processing all emails e.g half an hour each morning.
If you currently have thousands of unread emails, spend a few hours filing, deleting and organising and then stick to rigid schedule for processing emails each day.
This will take a bit of discipline at first but once you get into the habit, inbox zero can become a productive obsession.
2. Use the Two-Minute Rule
Act immediately on all emails that take less than two minutes to respond to, even if that simply means a reply confirming you received the email.
3. Delete and Unsubscribe
If you won’t need the email again, delete it. If it’s another newsletter or update that’s not important, unsubscribe. These emails are costing you physical and mental time, energy and money.
4. Get Comfortable With Keyboard Shortcuts
Users of Gmail and Outlook will save lots of time by learning the keyboard shortcuts. The most useful ones for Outlook are:
- CTRL+R: Reply
- CTRL+Enter: Send
- Up/Down arrow: Navigate email list
- CTRL+Shift+M: Compose new message
- CTRL+Q: Mark as read
The most useful shortcuts for Gmail are:
- /: Search inbox
- A: Reply all
- Shift C: Compose message in a new window
- Shift F: Forward message in new window
- Shift U: Mark message as read and skip to next
- Z: Undo last action
- L: Opens label dialogue box
- R: Select all read mail
- E: Archives email
5. Get Organised
I implemented inbox zero using Outlook and Gmail. In Outlook, I found it useful to set up rules that allowed me to quickly select and file an email in a suitable folder. I set up the following folders: Action, Waiting for, Archive and Reference.
I also set up folders pertaining to various projects I was working on at the time. An alternative system involves folders like: Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer and Do. If you still need support taming Outlook, help is out there.
Gmail also supports rules and labels. I use rules to file and archive irrelevant emails that I don’t necessarily want to read but which I’d rather have than delete altogether e.g. press releases, notifications about forum updates etc.
Bear in mind that too many labels will become confusing and time-consuming to navigate. I’ve also found colour coding systems and prioritised labels are less useful than actually having an Action folder where all important emails are kept.
6. Use Mailbox for iOS
Mailbox is a much hyped iOS app that allows users to quickly archive, delete, snooze and file emails by swiping to the left or right.
It’s built from the ground up with inbox zero in mind and it simplifies inbox zero on the move. There’s an Android version in the works.
7. Don’t Let Email Distract You
Implementing inbox zero requires that you empty your inbox each day. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend your entire time processing emails.
In fact, I turned notifications off. It’s more effective to spend a small amount of time each day, every day acting on emails.
If email is critical to your work, then you may need notifications turned on but consider just how essential immediate responses are.
8. Use One Email Client
Outlook, Mail and other desktop mail programmes are designed to handle emails from multiple accounts. This is far quicker than opening several different accounts regularly. And it makes it easier and quicker to learn shortcuts and tweak your email settings.
Similarly, Gmail supports sending emails from different accounts within the one Gmail client.
The only caveat to this method is that it’s sometimes more useful and safer to keep work and personal emails separate.
Please let me know about your tips for inbox zero in the comments section below.
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