Achiving Inbox Zero – myth or reality?

inbox symbol in clouds

Today, inboxes are everywhere. Emails are still the most popular means of communication in the office. In addition we have teams and slack, messages in social media, and many still receive voice messages and calls. Have you ever counted your inboxes? Reducing the number of inboxes is a value in itself, which I will address in another post. Is Inbox Zero still relevant in this world and can we achieve it?

Let’s look at the content of your inbox. An inbox overloaded with messages can be extremely annoying, especially if it takes considerable time for you to read and evaluate them. This is exactly where the benefits of Inbox Zero comes into play. A meticulous approach to email management, Inbox Zero aims at keeping your inbox almost empty or at the best, empty.

Though inbox zero was developed for emails, it applies to every kind of inbox. The core of inbox zero is, that you follow the principle to touch everything just once and remove every message from your inbox the moment you have read it the first time. Merlin Mann, who is regarded as the inventor of the Inbox Zero principle, identified five possible actions for individual messages in your inbox – delete, delegate, do, respond and defer. While delete is straightforward, the others need principles and systems you trust to make it work. I will come to that later.

Why should you care?

Confusing an inbox with a to-do list hampers your productivity. Message overload greatly disturbs our ability to perform smart work. It occupies a substantial amount of your time and energy, hindering the overall productivity. In fact, message overload subconsciously increases your anxiety level each time you discover the long list of unread messages in your inbox. One of the main reasons for feeling overwhelmed with piled up messages is, that each one has a demand and the prospect of its own. You need to get unprocessed messages out of sight in order to concentrate on what you want to do. 

Inbox Zero allows you to find the time and pay attention to creative work that matters most. ‘Zero’ here does not just signify a number of messages but denotes the time you need to rack your brain over the inbox. 

How To Achieve Inbox Zero

The initial time needed varies depending on how overflown your inbox is. Afterwards it should be no more than  20 minutes

To achieve Inbox Zero, you need to go through your inboxes once and apply the five possible actions to every message. After that you apply the same to all new messages coming in, every time you check your inbox.

  1. DELETE ruthlessly what you do not need.

    Now, to get a more detailed idea of this, let us begin with delete. Delete emails that are not worth your time. Check for spam and get them removed from your inbox right away. Also consider unsubscribing from newsletters you do not need. Besides spam, there are also a lot of relevant messages that are “for information only”. Delete them right after reading! Or even move them unread into a seperate for-information-only-folder, you can consult when needed. Possibly save important information in a separate folder, but never leave them cluttering your inbox. Do not bother to build an elaborate archiving system. In times of powerful desktop search, they are mostly not needed anymore.

  2. DELEGATE what others can do for you.

    Moving on, delegate a task that you feel needs to be checked on by someone in your team or is not under your own jurisdiction. In this way, you get to remove a certain number of messages from your inbox and reduce the list. 

  3. DO/RESPOND if this action takes less than two minutes

    Next, if a task mentioned in an email can be performed by you and it does not take more than two minutes to perform, do it. Try not to begin with a task, sideline it and move on to another. This leaves both the tasks without a resolution. Act in the same way with responses. If you can respond in two minutes, do it. Otherwise defer the work on the message. Why two minutes? It’s a rule of thumb denoting the limit of where it becomes less productive to deal with it right away.

  4. DEFER

    Lastly, there are emails that do not need your immediate attention but are to be taken care of in the future. Or that take a significant amount of time to deal with. In this case, you should defer them until the moment you want to deal with them. One of the best ways to defer tasks and messages is by using the Tickler File. By using a Tickler File, you can reschedule the email for a specified day in the future. To do this, simply enter a brief note in the appropriate daily or monthly folder. This ensures that you will be reminded of it in the right moment. 

As soon as you are done with your inbox, do not forget to get back to work.

Get the Benefits of Inbox Zero

While not all people are familiar with the concept of Inbox Zero, most of us are. With your inbox being flooded by a consistent stream of emails, it’s hard trying to maintain your sanity, leave alone being productive through the day. A zero-email day is like a myth. Here are a few benefits of inbox zero in relation to message overload:

Inbox Zero Relieves Your Mind 

All of us have a lot on our minds every day. Numerous stressors and distractions nudge at our brains for attention. In the case of emails, piling up unprocessed messages adds on to the work you must do the next day. You have a list of emails that are pending to be read along with the other ones that keep piling up.

The total amount of energy you waste doing these strips you of your actual ability to concentrate on things that are important. Achieving Inbox Zero involves processing and organizing your emails while removing individual emails from your inbox. Once you repeat this process on a daily basis, you will start feeling a bit more relaxed catering to the next round of urgent emails that hit your inbox.

Inbox Zero Provides Organisational Bliss 

You will never know the bliss attained through organising things unless you have done it. The bliss lies in searching less and getting more things done. You can now spend your time on something productive rather than wading your way through hundreds of emails to search for an important one.

Inbox Zero Reduces Chances of Missing Out

You experienced times when scanning through your long list of emails, you have come across one that opened the doors to a new venture or a new prospect. However, with the never-ending list, there are greater chances for you to miss out on that ‘oh-so-important’ one. With Inbox Zero, you do not miss out on anything. Once you have sorted the emails in their respective folders, you are aware of where to find each when the time comes. Once you have tended to it, it can conveniently slip off your mind.

How a Tickler File Helps in the Process

As discussed earlier, an inbox overflowing with emails hampers your calm. In fact, it can take your productivity for a ride. There are even situations when several of these emails are what you can call homeless and in most cases, these homeless emails take the form of reminders. Reminders become a huge part of your inbox since most of them have untended businesses associated with them, which prevents you from deleting them right away. Where do you find a home for these reminders? The home is what you call a Tickler File. One of the best ways to defer tasks and messages is by using the Tickler File. The Tickler File works in collaboration with your calendar and lets you virtually mail essential items like bills, emails, and notes to yourself on future dates.

The concept of Inbox Zero is highly beneficial for people who deal with loads of emails daily and use it as an inevitable means of communication. You can both keep your inbox organized by segregating these messages as per their importance while making them reappear in the future as per your convenience.