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How to Achieve Inbox Zero

How to achieve inbox zero

Are you suffering from inbox chaos?  Why would you want to achieve Inbox Zero? Can you imagine what it would be like to open your inbox each morning with a small and manageable number of emails to address? Inbox Zero is that by the end of the day it is empty, everything dealt with and that wonderful feeling of satisfaction it will bring. A feeling you have taken back control.

I have been trying to work out how to achieve inbox zero for some time. I don’t know about you, but I have been a slave to my inbox for years.  Each morning, I feel a blend of guilt, overwhelm and frustration when I open it.  Guilt because, being a productivity expert, I should know better; overwhelm because no matter how hard I work; it always seems much bigger than me; and frustration that I have not been able to tame it.

I am the kind of person who always likes to respond to people in a timely way.  And never like to have anything undone.  And loves learning new things.  And. And. And. It is quite a cocktail which exacerbates the problem.

So, I do respond to people quickly:  I pride myself on it.  But I often leave emails in my inbox as a reminder to do something else with it. That inbox clutter feeds into mind clutter. It also means my inbox builds up and builds up.  It had reached 5 ugly figures.  I am now at between zero and 15. 

Want to learn how I did it and how I keep it up?  Here is my method:

How to Achieve Inbox Zero in 10 Simple Steps

  1. You have to have a plan!  Otherwise it will simply take hold again and you slip into old habits and you will be right back where you started.  Planning is not a luxury but a strategy:  this is no time to wing it.
  2. Decide that you want to be in charge of your inbox rather than a slave to it.  This is a mindset shift which will serve you well.
  3. Unsubscribe to anything you don’t read.  Like I said, I love learning, so I would subscribe to a lot of things which I found interesting but never have time to read.  This has been going on for as many years as there has been email.  So I had to be realistic:  I can’t do it all.  Even if I want to.  I have to choose what I give my time and energy to.  So I listed those newsletters that I do read and I do benefit from and unsubscribed from all the rest.  I can always resubscribe if I find myself with time on my hands and wanting to feed the part of me which loves learning or want to know the latest offer is from someone other (I don’t).  If it’s someone I know I usually write to them and apologise but let them know I am just streamlining my inbox.  That way hopefully the relationship is not compromised.
  4. Stop using your inbox as a to do list.  This is a mistake that many make and was the main problem for me.  I like Smartsheet and I now use that more effectively as a result of my Zero Inbox strategy but you might prefer to use the task feature within your email client or perhaps some other time management tool. It’s always important to find what works for you.
  5. Create a structure for filing. This is a game-changer and gives you a sense of control and order.  It will be different for everybody but mine looks like this:
    • !Action (things I need to do.  The exclamation mark keeps it at the top of the list). I can easily see how many things need to be actioned.
    • !Awaiting Response
    • !Top of Mind (things I want to remember that are imminent or I need to check up on)
    • Read (I rarely open this but if I’m on a train and have nothing to read, there is always my email reading list!)
    • Clients (with individual client names underneath so I have a file for each).  I archive them at the end of our sessions together.
    • Enquiries (people who have made enquiries so I can manage the interaction)
    • Suppliers (products I buy)
    • Resources (services I use)
    • Partners/Associates (people/organisations I work alongside)
    • Orders (for keeping records of orders I place.  It includes a subsection of Delivery Notifications)
    • Events (for personal and business events, holidays, etc)
    • Useful information (I am currently also sending a copy to my Evernote (another great productivity tool) and may well stop saving them in my email)
    • Meeting links (just in case the technology fails me, this is my backup plan. I do like a backup plan)
  6. Create rules for incoming mail. I used this to file emails I needed to keep really quickly and in a sensible way instead of in my inbox.  For example, every email from a particular person will have a matching label with their name and it can automatically be saved to that by clicking the Archive button (I use Gmail:  it may have a different name in other email clients). This is quicker than trying to decide each time where something should go.
  7. Use labels as well as files. For example if I want something to go into a supplier folder, I can also put it into my Awaiting Response if that’s applicable to that specific interaction.  You can actually have multiple labels if you need to:  I might have something in my supplier list, delivery notifications and awaiting response if I have queried something about the delivery.  I might put a project label on it too if I am working on it with someone else. It’s a bit like a digital carbon copy. Make it work for you.
  8. Follow The Two Minute Rule:  whatever I can deal with in 2 minutes, I deal with there and then.  Job done.  And, I have to say, it feels really good!
  9. If all of this sounds too much, you may want to cheat your way into it by putting the whole of your inbox into a special file called “My Inbox Before I Learned to Tame It” or some such.  That way you start with a clean slate.  But you will still need a plan and a structure as given in 5 above.
  10. Be consistent:  it is the only way to keep your inbox tamed.  Little and often is key.

Focus on being productive instead of busy.

Tim Ferris



Technical Tips on How to Achieve Inbox Zero

Here is a YouTube video which will help you with the more techie elements of achieving Zero Inbox. 

If you are serious about reducing stress, improving productivity and no longer being a slave to your inbox, I do hope you follow these principles.  I am pretty certain you will thank me for it.  If you are anything like me, it will give you a satisfied feeling at the end of the day and will allow you to enjoy a restful evening.  You deserve it!

And if you have any inbox hacks of your own, do share!

Want Additional Support?

In the meantime, if you would like help on improving your performance and productivity, to get in touch or call me on 0345 130 0854.

To your success

Tricia Woolfrey

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