How to Manage your Emails and Improve your Productivity using The Inbox Zero Strategy
Updated on 28 Jul 2021 • 6 min read
Ever came back from a relaxing weekend only to open your inbox and realize you have hundreds of emails to sort through?
Or perhaps you feel constantly bombarded and find it hard to keep up?
Unfortunately, many of us feel this way.
After all, research has shown that, on average, an office worker receives about 121 emails a day. Now, that’s a lot of emails to read, process, and file!
In fact, 28% of our working time is spent on reading and answering emails.
The issue is that it takes approximately 64 seconds to get back on track after being interrupted by emails, which leads to decreased productivity and a lack of focus.
But what if we told you that there’s an easy way to take control of your inbox, and improve your productivity and your concentration?
Sound too good to be true?
Read on as we tell you everything about the inbox zero approach.
What Is The Inbox Zero Approach?
The Inbox Zero strategy was coined by Merlin Mann, a writer and productivity expert.
Contrary to what the name might suggest, the idea isn’t to frantically try to get your email inbox down to zero by the end of the day. Instead, it refers to "the amount of time an employee’s brain is in her or his inbox". Applying this concept means creating a distraction and stress-free working environment so that your emails and messages take up zero space in your mind.
The method relies on an effective filing and organizing system designed to free employees’ brains from their cluttered inboxes. This, in turn, helps improve their focus on things that truly matter such as added value tasks.
To achieve the coveted Inbox Zero, you should always follow the core pillars below:
Process your emails several times a day.
Every time you’re in your email, immediately answer messages that you can respond to in under 2 minutes. It will save you a lot of time down the track and help declutter your mind as well as your inbox.
Follow the "delete, delegate, respond, defer or do" method below when processing your emails.
Once you open your emails, scan through and immediately delete on the spot anything that can be deleted. Your favorite restaurant is updating you about their new menu? You can probably delete their message. After all, you can drool over the new menu next time you go ;) This will make some space in your inbox and alleviate any stress linked to having a high number of emails sitting in there.
If some of the emails require the help of someone else or are someone else’s responsibility entirely, flick them through immediately. This way, not only will you clear your inbox and allow your brain to process more important things, but you’ll also ensure the appropriate person gets the message.
When processing emails, you’ll be able to quickly spot the ones that require a response. However, responding doesn’t necessarily mean immediately crafting a long-winded reply or spending time doing research to answer a query. Instead, it means acknowledging the message and giving an estimate on how long it will take you to complete the task.
For emails that are not urgent and will take you more than two minutes to complete, defer until later, when you have more time. The best thing to do here is to set a deadline and turn this email into a task in your calendar, so you don’t forget about it.
Do refers to tasks you can do straight away if you have the time or to urgent and important tasks that need to be actioned immediately. For instance, say your boss’s presentation is scheduled to start in a couple of hours. They’re on the road and they need you to urgently send them a slide they forgot to add beforehand. This can’t wait for too long and should be actioned ASAP.
Tips to Achieve Inbox Zero
In addition to following the core pillars and principles of Mann’s Inbox Zero approach, here are a few additional tips on how you should treat your inbox in order to declutter it, free up your mind, and improve your focus:
Acknowledge that inboxes are a normal part of life
What Mann means by this is that these days, everything is an inbox. Inboxes are not only reserved for the professional sphere anymore. Think about your Messenger, Instagram, TikTok, or private email inbox. Like many of us, you’re probably bombarded with messages on all of your social media and professional networks. Therefore, as long as you acknowledge that this is part of living in the digital age, and most of the information you’re receiving is not important, you’ll be able to stop stressing over emails and messages and focus on what really matters to you.
Don’t Delete Everything
If you’re dealing with a huge backlog of emails (say from the last 12 months), you might be tempted to delete everything. We get it. But according to Mann’s approach, you shouldn’t.
Instead, set some time aside every day to narrow down your emails, and file away unwanted items. This way, you’ll easily be able to focus on the most important ones.
Check your Emails at Set Times
As mentioned before, an email interruption can set you back 64 seconds. So, if you’re constantly checking your inbox, your performance and productivity will undeniably suffer. Therefore, the best thing to do is to pick set times to process your emails, such as:
- First thing in the morning
- Before lunchtime
- After lunchtime
Keep your inbox shut for the rest of the day so that you can focus on projects and other added value tasks.
Switch off Every Now and Then
That’s right, the world won’t stop spinning because you’re not constantly checking your emails or social media messages ;) So, make sure to take healthy breaks from your inbox every now and then. This will help you concentrate on things that truly matter and genuinely relax your mind and body. And once you get back to your inbox, you’ll feel re-energized and more productive.
It All Starts with You
Sure, having someone following up with a phone call three minutes after sending you an email is annoying. It can disrupt your creative flow and even make you lose track of your task. As a result, Mann recommends letting others know how negatively it impacts your productivity. Yet, don’t forget to also check in with yourself every now and then and make sure you’re not guilty of this as well.
The 3 Best Apps to Help you Achieve Inbox Zero
Besides following Merlin Mann’s recommendations above, you can also use an email management app to help you stay on top of your inbox. We’ve listed below the three best email apps for you.
Spark is one of the best email management apps out there. It has been designed to seamlessly allow users to manage their email and improve their productivity.
Here are some of Spark’s best features:
- Intelligently prioritizes emails by bumping messages from people at the top.
- Built-in calendar.
- Follow-up reminder option.
- Distraction-free notification feature that only notifies you of emails from people you know.
- "Send it later" feature: this allows you to craft a response now but send it later. This option can come in handy if you’re used to working late but still want to set boundaries with clients regarding your availability.
- Snooze feature: this option temporarily removes an email from your inbox and brings it back after a set period of time. This can help you focus on more important things and get back to the email later without feeling overwhelmed or under pressure.
As the name suggests, Clean Email aims at keeping your inbox clean. The idea behind this smart tool is to automatically organize your inbox based on filters and rules to make it more manageable.
Some of the key features of Clean Email include:
- Automated bulk email cleaner. Quick cleaner option that automatically organizes social media notifications, ads, or old emails into a Quick Clean folder for you to review later and archive.
- Auto clean functionality to automatically clean and organize emails based on predefined rules.
- Smart View feature automatically grouping similar emails together.
- Unsubscribe and blocking option to instantly declutter your inbox.
If you’re overwhelmed by emails, Sanebox could be another great option for you. Indeed, this powerful inbox management app can help you process your emails more efficiently.
Once you log in, the software will analyze your inbox and email history and declutter your emails. It will automatically place unwanted items in a "sane later" folder only leaving the important emails in your inbox. A great thing about Sanebox is that based on your patterns and behaviors regarding certain senders, the algorithm will learn and replicate for future emails.
Some of the productivity features include:
- Filtering and rules option
- Easy unsubscribe feature
- "Do not disturb" functionality
Note that the app works with any email service (just like Clean Email and Spark) including G Suite, Exchange, Yahoo, Outlook, etc.
It’s a fact, we all have different ways of managing our emails. And what works for your colleagues or friends might not work for you. Yet, even though there is no right or wrong way to handle your inbox, following Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero approach could genuinely help you get on top of your email while boosting your productivity. We know it helps us!
So, if you’ve tried this approach before or want to give it a go, we’d love to read about your experience in the comment section below. And don’t hesitate to browse our blog section for more tips on how to be more productive. Hopefully, you learn a thing or two about other efficient productivity tools and methods ;)