Zero Inbox for Greater Productivity

The email inbox: One of the most effective forms of communication, has for many become a frustrating distraction. Their inboxes are filled with hundreds or thousands of earlier emails.

Several years ago Merlin Mann introduced the “Inbox Zero” concept to create greater efficiency and productivity around email. Here are a few simple steps to implement and maintain your inbox.

Step One: Think Process Not Storage

Your email inbox is not an archive, it is a temporary holding area for email to be processed, and not a file cabinet to store hundreds or thousands of emails. This is the first step and requires a change in our thinking. Our inbox is where we change information into actions. We are not just checking to take orders like a clerk behind a counter, but to transform through action.

To set up your Zero Inbox Solution create three new folders: Archive, Delegate, Defer.

Step Two: Delete (or Archive)

When you look at an email ask does this require action or not? If it does not require action, then delete by moving it to the trash, unless it is something you need to reference in the future, then move it to archive. The search capabilities built into your email program will allow you to find the email quickly in the future if needed.

Step Three: Delegate

If the email requires action, but someone else it better able to handle this, then forward the email to the other person and replace “Fwd” in the subject line to the Name of the person you are forwarding to and add “due xx/xx” with a month and day in the future when you expect to hear from them. Example, “Bill 11/02: Proposal for Account”. Now cc yourself and trash the original message and place the copy in the Delegate folder.

Step Four: Do

If the email is something you need to do and can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it now, as David Allen teaching is Getting Things Done. Then trash or archive the message.

Step Five: Defer

If the email is something you need to do and can not be done in the next two minutes then move to the Defer folder. If there is a specific due date forward a copy of the email to yourself and replace “Fwd” in the subject line with the due date, so you can prioritize in the future.

Every email will fit into one of these simple action buckets. Throughout the day let you emails collect in your inbox. Turn off your notifications, sounds and alarms. Set aside two or more specific times each day when you will process your email, and deal with each email message once. Either Delete, Archive, Delegate, Do, or Defer. Your goal is to delete a lot and defer only a few. Most emails should be deleted or archived immediately. Some will require delegation or action, and the least number should be deferred.

Implementation From Where You Are Today

Whether you have a hundred or thousands of emails in your inbox at present you can find the freedom of a Zero Inbox Solution in a very short period of time by doing the following.

Set aside an hour and take all the emails that are over six months old and move to Archive. They are still searchable and because they are so old, they are not being looked at anyway.

Starting with the oldest remaining emails. quickly scan the subject and content of the emails moving most to Trash and many to Archive. The remaining ones requiring action will either be done in two minutes or go into Delegate, or Defer as necessary. After only a few focused hours doing this, thousands of emails can be processed. Continue until your inbox is empty.

Daily Maintenance

Every day process all of your email during the several specific times you have scheduled and move each email out of the inbox into its proper place, i.e. Trash, Archive, Delegate, or Defer, if they are not something your Do in two minutes. By the end of the day you should have a Zero Inbox.

Based upon the volume of email you receive daily, you will review the Delegate and Defer folders at least weekly and maybe more often. Your goal is to continue processing items as action requires, moving them eventually to either Trash or Archive.

Congratulations, everything for the day was processed, not necessarily completed, but processed. By continuing these simple steps daily, you will have a Zero Inbox at the end of each day.

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