Hack your way to Inbox Zero

Ever get those days where your email inbox is so jam packed with emails that it’s almost impossible to tell what’s important? It drives you insane and you end up feeling the urge to delete everything!

Well, you’re not alone and the amount of time it takes to manage a seemingly constant and relentless stream of emails costs us all isn’t even worth thinking about.

What is Inbox Zero?

Merlin Mann came up with the idea of Inbox Zero back in 2007 and an important thing to note is that zero is not a reference to the number of messages in an inbox;  it’s the amount of time a person’s brain spends in the inbox.

Inbox Zero is basically an organised approach to managing emails with the aim of keeping your inbox empty, or almost empty, at all times.

With time and attention being finite productivity suffers when an inbox is confused with a “to do” list.

The basic idea is to reduce the number of times per day you check for email and once in there, to touch each message as few times as possible. You then choose whether to delete it, action it, respond straight away or stick it onto a to-do list for later.

The full five commandments according to Merlin Mann are:

  • Delete
  • Delegate
  • Respond
  • Defer
  • Do

Don’t worry about not hitting “Inbox Zero” but do make sure you stick to the plan and use your own basic test questions like these…

  • Can this wait? 
    If it can’t, just label or flag it for “Follow up”. If not, then ask the next question.
  • Does this really require my attention?
    Delete or archive the email if it doesn’t. If it does, then ask the next question.
  • Can I pass this on?
    If yes, then pass it over to another person or email back a link to the resource then delete or archive the email. If not, then ask the next question.
  • Am I ever going to respond or pass this on?
    If no, then delete it. If yes, then send a short response delete or archive the email and get the task done.

Ultimately, emptying the inbox is very reassuring and it means you’ve at least made a quick decision about every email, so nothing important has been missed.

Watch Merlin Mann talking about Inbox Zero and the distinction between “checking your email” and “processing your email”.

Apps & hacks

These links should provide you with some much needed assistance if you’re planning to give getting to Inbox Zero a bash.

  • Unroll.me
    Unsubscribe from unwanted email subscriptions, discover new ones and organize them all in one place.
  • Sanebox
    SaneBox is a service that automatically sorts your email into several folders based on each email’s importance.

Is Inbox Zero achievable?

I think it is but I’d also say that my “version” of it is a more relaxed customisation of the concept. Either way, it does works and I spend far less time these days messing about with emails that just aren’t important.

Here’s a couple of posts from others that found it worked for them too.

Your thoughts?

We’d love to hear what you think.

Tell us what strategies you use to to cut through the daily stream of mails and keep Inbox Zero.

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