The 2018 Guide to Achieving Inbox Zero (w/ Tips for Gmail and Outlook Users)

  • Email Management
  • The 2018 Guide to Achieving Inbox Zero (w/ Tips for Gmail and Outlook Users)

    You’re in the middle of writing a very important proposal when suddenly you notice a pop up message from your Outlook saying you have three new emails. Instead of continuing with your work, you decide to check your email and get your inbox back to zero. You scan each email subject line for importance and then as best you can, attempt to swiftly re-adjust your attention back to your proposal.

    Seconds later, you hear the “new email” alert and your attention is once again shifted away from your work and into your Outlook or Gmail account. And then, while checking your email for the second time in as many minutes, you’re reminded of all the other emails you glanced at early, but never responded to. Panic sets in. Your attention is officially gone from your proposal and on to your neglected emails. Productivity goes out the window.

    Sound familiar?

    If this situation seems to recreate itself time and time again, then all signs are that you suffer from poor email management skills and should embrace what is known as the inbox zero approach.

    What is Inbox Zero?

    The idea behind Inbox Zero came from Merlin Mann, a writer and productivity expert from San Francisco. Mann is also the creator of 43 Folders, a popular personal productivity system. In 2007, Mann took the stage at a Google TechTalk and shared his crazy idea:


    According to Mann, the idea behind inbox zero is not a reference to the number of messages in your inbox, rather it’s a mindset on how you approach your email in terms of time management. In essence, Inbox Zero begins with embracing the following four ideas:

    • Email is nothing more than a medium — Look at your email as “a tube” for getting information from one place to another and nothing else. Or as Mann says, “There is no need for you to live in email, that’s not where the action is.”
    • One place for anything — Find a place for your emails when they arrive. Mann believes that “once you know where stuff goes it gets a lot easier to know where to put it.”
    • Process to zero — “A lot of people are good about checking email but not very good at doing anything about it,” says Mann. Don’t allow your email to stack up in place and do something with it.
    • Convert to actions — Decide what you need to do with each email that comes your way, do it and then move on!

    Is Inbox Zero Possible in 2018?

    Email is a constant part of our day. Like snail mail, it simply never stops. This is especially true in an office setting, where the average worker receives 121 emails a day and sends out 40 business emails a day. But is it possible to maintain an inbox of zero in today’s fast paced world of an email every minute?

    Of course, it is — it’s just a matter of what you’re willing to do to get there. Productivity experts like Mann all agree, Inbox Zero is only possible if you follow a strict email management protocol that works for you. The truth is there’s more than enough pre-baked strategies available that you could attempt to mimic, or perhaps personalize them with a few tweaks here and there.



    How to Achieve Inbox Zero

    The process of getting organized or learning a new way of doing things takes time — embracing an Inbox Zero approach is no different. The following tips derived from Mann’s original idea will help you develop your own strategy to achieve Inbox Zero, in a way that works for you and only you:

    1. Learn to Let Go: Use Your Delete Button — Once you’ve gotten what you need out of an email, delete it. You can also archive it, but chances are your organization already has an email archiving system in place.
    2. Don’t Wait, Delegate — If it is determined that the mail you’ve received is best suited in the hands of another, pass that email along and move on. Don’t be afraid to delegate, but be sure to check in at a later time.
    3. Respond (if you can) — If a response can be achieved in a swift fashion, respond and move on. Why delay doing something that will take less than two minutes?
    4. Defer, But Don’t Forget — Occasionally you’ll come across an email that takes time to read and even more time to respond, it’s OK to defer until another time, but be sure the email is put in a place you won’t forget.
    5. Just Do It — If an email involves a task that can be achieved in no time at all, just do it and move on. Again, why wait to do something if it will take less than two minutes?

    But wait, there’s more. Embracing these tips is only half the battle. The next thing you should do is set up individual email folders so you can properly bucket an email with the appropriate action. For example; if you have determined an email is OK to defer, then you should have a “Read Later” folder. The same goes for emails you delegate or respond to.

    And while these general tips have proven helpful as part of an overall email management ideology, the truth is that your experience achieving Inbox Zero is predicated on which email service you are using.

    Inbox Zero for Gmail Users

    If Gmail is your email service choice, then you will have a few features at your disposal that will help you cull through your inbox at a far faster rate. Popular Science lists these 5 tricks to achieve Inbox Zero when using Gmail:

    • Prioritize Your EmailsConfigure your inbox with category tabs so Gmail knows where to send your email in the future. Gmail categories include: Primary, Social, Promotions, etc.
    • Filter Your Emails — Gmail allows you to filter your emails according to sender, subject, size and various other criteria. You can also use this feature to automatically archive emails you’ve deemed as not important, but worth hanging on to.
    • Utilize the Gmail Star System Putting a star on emails helps you rank their importance — which in turn helps you remember to look at them later. But starring them doesn’t make them go away – make sure you archive your starred emails as well.
    • Say Goodbye: UnsubscribeGmail makes it easy to unsubscribe from any unwanted or annoying emails thanks to a built-in unsubscribe feature. It’s OK to unsubscribe, just let go.
    • Upgrade to Inbox by Gmail — Gmail 2.0, this update, includes smarter features and is far more intuitive on what type of email is arriving in your inbox.

    Inbox Zero for Outlook

    If your world revolves around your Outlook account, then you’ll need to follow a slightly different approach to achieving Inbox Zero. HubSpot includes a step-by-step strategy to achieving Inbox Zero, however others argue it’s more about task management than anything else.

    In his article, “How I Get to Inbox Zero in Outlook” (the top search result in Google) David-H discusses how he implemented a strict task management process built around three Outlook features: Categories, Follow-Up and Quick Steps.

    Inbox Zero is Really About Time Management

    At the end of the day, email management is about improving your time management skills. Because after all, the time it takes you to do something is what’s most important from a business productivity standpoint.

    In addition to the tips and strategies mentioned above, you can also find yourself closer to achieving Inbox Zero if you set aside specific times within your day to check your email and take action if needed. Some productivity experts suggest adopting a strategy to “start and end with email” — an idea where you start your day by checking and cleaning out your inbox and repeat that same task at the end of your work day.

    Intradyn is an information archiving company that specializes in providing email and social media archiving solutions to organizations all around the world. If you’re in need of an archiving solution to help you achieve Inbox Zero, contact us today.

    As the chief operating officer and co-founder of Intradyn, Adnan provides wide-ranging oversight of day-to-day operations. He has two decades of experience helping to shape the direction of archiving solutions and has been instrumental in the success of the company’s global capabilities.

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