Zero Inbox: The Power of a Fresh Start

I keep hoping that somehow the right technique, the right method or the right programme will move my inbox to zero, my desk trays to empty, and my latest to-do-list to all checked off. All in vain.Then I turn to Christianity and, to my unutterable and indescribable delight, I encounter the rare and refreshing works: "It is finished!" Are there any happier words in the universe?  3 min


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5 Indicators You've Hired the Right Project Manager
5 Indicators You've Hired the Right Project Manager

Most of us are feeling that we have way too much to do and too little time in which to do it. I keep hoping that somehow the right technique, the right method or the right programme will move my inbox to zero, my desk trays to empty, and my latest to-do-list to all checked off. All in vain.

Then I turn to Christianity and, to my unutterable and indescribable delight, I encounter the rare and refreshing works: “It is finished!” Are there any happier words in the universe?  No, however,  recognize that God created you to be productive. Therefore we should seek after living and working productively because this is important to God.

There are many individuals who never delete emails. These individuals believe that dealing with folders and worrying about what to delete is a waste of time and that  Inbox Zero should be left in the 90s.  Therefore, having a zero inbox  is still largely seen as the Holy Grail of the  digital age.

What is Inbox Zero?

Inbox  Zero  is a rigorous approach to email management developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann. It’s aimed at keeping the inbox  empty or at least partially empty and reducing the  amount of time you  are  preoccupied with email, to the extent to which your inbox weighs on your mind. It only takes about 15 minutes to initially set up, but might change how you work with email forever.  All it takes is a commitment to maintaining order in your digital P.O. box.

As the number of unread messages steadily increases, many people are consumed and experience a  feeling of dread and  believe there is no fix to this plague of an Internet-infused existence.

According to Radicati’s “Email Statistics Report, Business Professionals Sent and Received 121 Emails a Day, on Average, in 2014. And That Number Is Increasing”

Everyone’s habits and needs differ. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to inbox organization. However, we’ve rounded up our very best tips for prioritizing your emails and achieving a more efficient workflow.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Delete

Anxiety, fear, disenchantment, whichever emotion overcomes you when you open your inbox must stop. Everyone feels overwhelmed at times, that called being human. Don’t concern yourself with feeling, instead focus on the doing. Decide what emails are unimportant and delete and archive as many new and old messages as possible,  then forward what can be answered by someone else.  Archived emails are forever searchable and forever out of sight.

If your too busy to regularly filter emails received, schedule  a few hours every week to cleanse your inbox  and get it down to the zero.

Standing in line buying shopping  or  waiting for the train is the perfect time to de-clutter your  inbox.

2. Organize Your  Inbox

Creating folders helps prevent your inbox from filling up. Emails about upcoming meetings, concerts or travel plans don’t necessarily deserve a place in your inbox. You can instead add events  to your calendar.

We recommend creating folders for “purchases,” “events” and “travel,” where you can store things like airline confirmations, hotel reservations, concert tickets or restaurant booking.

3. Open With Caution

You can’t reply to everything, so concentrate on what matters at the right time, and reply to the rest later.  Be honest about your priorities and set realistic time expectations. Use your gut instinct about which emails deserve a response and which deserve to be deleted — it can be hard, but learning when to say no is crucial. Less is always more  so get into the practice of sending short concise emails, not an essay, a thesis paper, or a book. Simple bullets are great.

You Need to Be Mature in Your Decisions and Be Wise Enough to Delete the Emails You Don’t Want.

4. The 80/20 Rule

20% of our emails will consume 80% of our time. Don’t fight it. Instead  quickly handle the remaining 80% by quickly  responding to new messages that can be answered in two or less minutes. Then move other  messages that require more than two minutes to answer to a separate “requires response” folder. Also try to process email periodically throughout the day, perhaps at the top of each hour and don’t leave the email client open.

5. Be True

Honesty is the best policy in adopting “inbox zero”. Be honest about your priorities and set realistic time expectations. Use your gut instinct about which emails deserve a response and which deserve to be deleted — it can be hard, but learning when to say no is crucial in achieving inbox zero.

Six Inbox Folders You’ll Need  

  1. Weekly Review: For emails, we don’t need to read immediately, but should review by the end of the week.
  2. Backlog: For emails that simply aren’t a current priority that we should revisit eventually.
  3. Action Required: For emails that require us to complete a task or follow up.
  4. Awaiting Response: For emails that we expect important responses to.
  5. Delegated: For emails, we’ve delegated to others.
  6. Archived: For emails, we want out of our inbox without deleting them entirely.

Say goodbye to inbox infinity and hello to inbox zero. Remeber God designed us to create wealth, to produce wealth; he designed us to be productive people. God wants you to be productive, and his plan for your life includes wealth creation – not wealth redistribution.

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George Brzozowski
I want to help you to see news events as starting points for constructive conversations. I seek to cut through the froth of the political spin cycle to underlying truths and values. I want to be so focused on progress that together we can provide a credible and constructive counter-narrative to the hopelessness-, anger-, and fear-inducing brand of discourse that is so pervasive in the news.

32 Comments

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

  1. From an iPhone you can also reduce the number of mail messages uploaded to your iphone. I use 3 days. You can check you setting by opening Setting & then going to “Mail”, “Accounts”, “Exchange”, “Mail Days to Sync”. There are several options, probably the worst is “No Limit”.

  2. Another tip that will help keep Outlook organised is: NEVER ADD ATTACHMENTS TO APPOINTMENTS; SEND THEM IN A SEPARATE EMAIL.

  3. I have been keeping the majority of all my Outlook folders under Archives, but your post reminded me of another housekeeping item – move things on my phone, wherever possible, to my computer (photo folders and their contents, apps added since the last cleaning, etc.). Thanks!

  4. Excellent post if i may say so myself. I’m going to try and apply this next week and will update you all at the end of the month. God Bless

  5. you need to really be disciplined to make this work. its possible, but it only take a couple of days not sorting emails etc for one for get back into a mess. good points though.

  6. I agree – it is the holy grail. I am very happy to keep it under 75 at the end of the day. I extend the end of my days to do 2 things. File emails and document the day/create tomorrows to do list. I am a much happier soul at home when I do those things.

  7. Email serves too many functions that it was not conceived to perform. Its inefficiencies are monstrous. Imagine using a wall of post office boxes and a handful of colored markers to run a calendar, task lists, contact information, document storage, team discussions, etc. That doesn’t even gel as a metaphor but we more or less do just that.

    Email is a terrible collaboration tool https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIqA_YKeboc

    Email is a black hole of information management (I hang my head and consider the million times I have searched my Inbox and 20+ subfolders).

    Email’s calendar function is okay, and I have never used Tasks so I reserve judgment there but I suspect there are superior tools out there for even these basic functions.

    The only place I observe that email serves a functional purpose is as a primitive communication tool, but even here it feels suboptimal. Not to mention the ways it wreaks havoc on people’s time and mental state. http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20150324-the-companies-that-banned-email

    The problems with email are really symptoms of structural issues – how we manage information, how we manage workflows, how we communicate.

    On that last, I observe that I might learn a single piece of important company news via an intranet, email (multiple distribution channels, often), an IM, one or more phone calls, and maybe even a town hall for good measure. Why so many avenues with so much potential for contradictory or missed data?

    I constantly ask myself why we have so much informational overlap and how we can concentrate – concentrate resources, attention, discrete items of concern. Distribute widely if necessary, but strategically.
    Currently I’m embroiled in one real effort, in one small area, to tackle some of these issues.

  8. I only leave actionable emails in my inbox and keep the inbox to less than 100 total at all times. I actually get antsy if I get to about 70. Since I am on mountain time and most folks I deal with are the east coast I usually come in about 6:30AM so that I don’t walk into a bunch of needs from impatient customers. That gives me the end of day when the east coasters are gone to knock out the simple actionable items and whittle it down.

    I do file everything.

  9. I find this message and attached article disturbing. We should NOT be working to manage an inbox. We should be working with our clients to develop solutions to their challenges. Email is a necessary evil, not our raison d’etre.

    Consider the article’s suggestion of reviewing emails hourly… you have 20 that take 2 minutes (the quick ones) – so there is 40 minutes – now you have the remaining few that take longer. You’ve just managed to spend your entire day, one hour at a time, managing your inbox.

    I propose that at the top of every hour instead of managing your email you reach out by phone to just one of your clients (either internal and external) to discuss what is needed. I think you’ll find your net quantity of email will decrease, and your relationships will grow. That’s good for business.

    Email is a great tool to share information to a wider group of people, unfortunately I find that it is fast becoming the primary communication tool in our industry. This is a trend that is very concerning, and self defeating.

    (before the comments flow, yes, I understand that we need to address our messages, I simply feel that we can avoid many email messages by more direct communication with those who might send them)

  10. Thank you for the article very good information, I am guilty of having an overly full inbox and will use the information to improve my email skills.
    Thanks again

  11. Rules also help to sort emails into functional groups. I have folders in my Inbox for each of my projects (including “overhead,” “training,” etc.) into which all active emails go… once sorted, I can focus on each project in sequence. It’s a much-more efficient process (for me) and usually lets me get down to near zero – at least in the top level of my Inbox. I do flag various e-mails for follow-up, so I’m guilty of using my Inbox as a To Do list. :(

  12. this re-iterates my point above…..so many different ways to manage, and given email is one of our most important means of recording project directions etc I thought we would probably have a consistent strategy.

    Not taking away from your method of using PST’s (I have done this as well), but it does require a certain level of IT knowledge to manage, and I have found people don’t realise that PST’s get a little unstable over about 2gb in file size, so often get corrupt. I usually store these on my shared drive so regular daily automatic backups take care for me, though shared drive size can be an issue.

  13. I personally prefer the creation of personal PST files that I retain in two locations, one the working copy is maintained on the laptop the other will be my backup which I religiously update on a weekly basis. Hence just in case of computer error or failure at least I have not lost all my emails. Each and every individual project /scheme that I’have worked on from 1997 has been saved, even the junk emails. I keep a copy of the email in my inbox if it needs to be followed up. This way I ensure 1. that my inbox is never full 2. I find this time saving rather having to search through emails. It really depends on the indiviual how they prefer to look after their emails.

  14. In the office I worked in prior to coming to the UK we used an addin for outlook, combine with a database to control. If we received a project related email, we would simply click the button, do a quick search for the relevant project, add a few tags (imagining what we would type if we wanted to search for the email in the future, names/dates/subject etc add automatically). Hit the save button and it puts a copy of the .msg in the project folder in the correct spot. We get a big green tick saying email is registered so we know we can delete from the inbox.

    If you are a cc and someone else has “registered” the email the green tick will show up automatically, so you know you can delete the email straight away.

    We then had a database search tool where we could search for any emails for any project, any time. We used this same database searcher for contacts, library etc
    The benefit of this is:
    – there is only 1 copy of the emails
    – emails get archived with the project
    – collaboration (anyone can see what emails have been sent, when and to who)
    – we can search for emails at anytime (often 10 years after a project is built after occasional accident enquiry)
    – we get major browny points when a client rings asking if we can remember this and that….. and we can forward them the original email before the end of the phone call.

    I know this doesn’t help with the “to do” type list, but back then my inbox was always clean.

  15. Agree with this. I run my own, slightly modified version of ‘Inbox Zero’ and it has helped in dealing with e-mails. Typically I never quite get to zero, but keep an inbox of a very low number of e-mails (at least compared to others!).
    The issue I find is with filing of e-mails. Until the archiving system is more reliable and can unarchive e-mails without issue, I continue to store everything in separate .PST files, which are larger and take up space.

  16. I see a lot of people that keep emails in their inbox because they it involves some action and they don’t want to forget about it but there are ways to manage this. For example I use an Outlook category which I name “Action” and use Quick Click to be able to right click on the email and assign the category if appropriate. Then I file the email by project (one folder per project). I then use a Search Folder to find all emails that have the Action category assigned. I show that in the Favourites section directly under my Inbox with a display of number of items in the folder. Once I complete the action you simply remove the category flag, the email stays where it was in the Project folder but is removed from the Action Search Folder. Just one way of keeping Inbox to zero…

  17. I definitely try and keep my Inbox as empty as possible, by creating folders (and sometimes folders in folders). I imagine that in certain circumstances, people getting hundreds of emails a day would have a tougher time, but by filing emails I always (usually) know where to go look for something.

      1. Hi Debb, thanks for reaching out. Like most people we still use outlook! However, we are also presently testing Slack. Slack brings all your communication together in one place. It’s real-time messaging, archiving and search for modern teams. There are a number of apps that we are also currently reviewing and which we will report on soon.

  18. I loved this piece. I love the ideas of putting everything in folders, like Outlook allows people to do. However, my only email account is on Google, and they do not have folders. When I am looking for something by a certain person, I put the name in the search box and it will bring up all their emails to me. I guess that’s the closest I can get to having folders! Do you have ideas for me regarding my lack of folders on Gmail? Thanks!

    1. Hi Debb,

      If you really want to sort everything per person you should download the application InboxZero.

      This application sorts all your emails per person. I find it really handy. You get a nice overview on your screen of all the emails you’ve exchanged with this person. Super app!

      1. Does the Project Journal App cost anything? If it is free, does it come with very definitive instructions on how to set up? Lastly, would it be able to set up rules for me? I tried setting up rules on Gmail, and it was unproductive. I loved Outlook because if you had a folder for someone, next to their name it would show a number if you had x number of emails from that person that you can read. Hope that made sense! I am not in project management at all, but I do want to get (and keep) my email account VERY streamlined. Should I keep reading your blog and wait for ideas that will appeal to me? Thank you.

        1. Debb,

          InboxZero (inboxzero . easi . net) is free to install and doesn’t need rules to set it up.
          InboxZero has rules by default that make sure that mail are sorted per contact and therefore you will automatically have a streamlined view.
          (This application is made to make project management more easy for people and to follow up easier with people. )

    2. Hi Debb, we are currently testing slack (slack Dot Com) a team collaboration tool. Slack brings all your communication together in one place. It’s real-time messaging, archiving and search for modern teams.

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