Zero Inbox

today is a good day – that is, i have found the joy of zero. that is right, the joy of the zero inbox. now that is not to say that i have never been there before (well i do not mean to brag but it is a regular thing for me). it has taken me years to perfect this method (i even posted about it a while back).

so the method that i have produced is very simple and very compelling. in fact i can guarantee that my method will work for anybody1. this method is built on three principles that are important to understand: i am inherently lazy (like most humans); i like categorization (like most humans); i don’t like dealing with my email (like most humans). with that in mind i have developed this methodology through trying things that don’t work. now i found something that does.

step 1: set up folders in your email like a list.

seriously, use numbers. this forces your folder order to be the same no matter what device you have. what order and what folders you use are irrelevant. it is important to have predictability no matter how you access your emails.

recommendation: make a folder called “take action” for things you need to do, one called “review” for things you need to read, and one called “archive” to store things in – this comes in handy later.

step 2: schedule two thirty-minute times in your day to process your email.

you can read and check your email all you want during the day and even respond. what i mean by processing is going through every email and deciding what to do with it.

recommendation: do not do this first thing in the morning – do something fun then. i do mine mid-morning and evening after the kids go to sleep.

step 3: process your emails. go through every email, read it and decide what you need to do with it.

if you need to respond and can do so intellectually in less than sixty seconds. if you need to review it put it in your “review” folder. if you need to respond or take an action but it will take longer than a minute put it in your “take action” folder. otherwise archive it (and by that i mean move to your “archive” folder)2.

recommendation: i use outlook categories to set the context of each email as i read them for easier searching in my archive down the road.

bonus recommendation: sort your inbox oldest t0 newest (putting the oldest email at the top) this helps focus on getting through all your emails, not just the new ones.

step 4: be disciplined. this method works only if you are willing to work it.

the details of your organization and file system are not as important as the process itself. but if you do not commit to it then it is futile and useless. also if you use “take action” and “review” you also need to schedule the time to go through those emails.

recommendation: if you use task management software forward all of your “take action” and “review” emails to that system so you don not neglect those folders.

step 5: start right now – move every email in your inbox to your archive.

seriously. do it now. stop reading and do it. i know this sounds extreme and drastic but if you don’t this process sucks getting started.

recommendation: move every email in your inbox to your archive this very second.

the beauty of this system is that it forces you to make quick decisions on what you are going to spend your time on. are you going to spend your time on actually working or reading emails? me, i like my job, so i would rather work. email is important and useful but not if it is all you do. and here is the thing – all of those unread emails in your inbox? who cares. if it is important it will come up again.

do not hold onto the false idea that by doing this you will hurting someones feelings by not responding to their email. chances are you are not doing that right now and leaving your email in your inbox does nothing but remind you that you are not doing that anyways. do yourself a favor and eliminate your stress. once you embrace this system and use it, you will find you can respond to every email you need to in reasonable time and still have time in your day to do your job.

let me know how it goes!


1: guarantee is null and void in the contiguous united states, outlying colonies, northern hemisphere, the third rock from the sun, the milky way galaxy, and the universe at large.

2: for those tech gurus out there – yes i am aware that gmail does nifty archiving; yes so does mac mail and others; do your archive thing. i use manual archiving because i am archaic in how i use email clients.

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