Stop Drowning in Emails: Your Guide to Getting to Inbox Zero

Stop Drowning in Emails: Your Guide to Getting to Inbox Zero


Like many of us, you may be struggling to keep up with the influx of emails you receive on a daily basis. These daily messages can be piled up into thousands of emails that you just do not know what to do with. You may even be feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the task and are unsure how to start organizing. If this sounds like you, consider adopting the inbox zero method. This method is a highly popular form of email management championed by entrepreneurs and technology workers. Unfamiliar with the term email management? Email Management is a tool to help optimize productivity by reducing inbox clutter and creating a digital organization system that is right for you and your business. Business owners care about email organization because it affects your productivity throughout the day.

What is Inbox Zero? 

Inbox Zero is the idea where the main goal of your email management practices is to maintain an empty inbox or as close to empty as possible. The goal is to keep your inbox email free at all times. Inbox Zero is a term accredited to Merlin Mann. According to Mann the term zero also refers to the amount of time one spends on email management. The goal is to spend as little time as possible browsing your inbox. Written in a blogpost in 2007 Mann discusses how email takes a toll on your time, productivity, and sanity due to the fact that most people lack a cohesive system to organize their incoming mail. With these issues in mind he created Inbox Zero to be an action based solution to decluttering your inbox.

Why should you consider adopting the Inbox Zero mindset into your work routine?

Research shows that small distractions can derail your workflow and cause you to take more time to complete a basic task. A study conducted by psychologist scientists at George Mason University shows that work interruptions produce lesser quality work in the long run. You may not consider checking your email as a distraction, but obsessively checking your inbox actively hurts your natural workflow.

Where Should You Start?

Inbox Zero uses the Four D method: do, defer, delegate, and delete. The Four D’s are your toolkit for organizing your inbox. Every message will fall into one of these four categories. 

The first D is do. If an email is time sensitive do not hesitate and respond. This category allows you to reply to high priority emails in a punctual manner. Do it and be done with it. 

The second D is defer. Create a check later folder. Any email that is not time sensitive but is your responsibility to answer, simply drop it into this folder. Be sure to look through this folder before the end of your work day. This tool allows you to focus on high priority tasks without distraction and stay organized. 

The third D is delegate. Managing your time and energy is key at any job. If you are in a position to delegate tasks to others, do so. Make a note of whomever you are sending work to so you can double check if the task was completed.

The final D is to delete. Any emails you receive that you do not need floating in your inbox, do not hesitate and delete them. Remember the goal is to get to inbox zero not just a neat inbox so delete unnecessary mail. If deleting emails makes you nervous you can archive them instead. 

Are you utilizing shared inboxes?

Many email programs have features that allow you to create group inboxes. Think of it as a group chat with your coworkers but in email form. A team from Estes Forwarding Worldwide reported they minimized their email usage by 80% when they implemented their own shared inbox. Individual team members saw major improvements in their personal email management after switching to having a joint inbox for their project team. Instead of sending individual messages to each team member, one message was sent to the shared inbox. This tool allows for better collaboration due to more transparent communication among team members.

Other Tips for Achieving Inbox Zero

Another tip is to not simply delete marketing emails. If you receive regularly scheduled promotional emails from companies you are no longer interested in do not just delete the email. Before you delete an unwanted marketing message, open the email and take the time to properly unsubscribe from their mailing list. This way you will not receive any more unwanted junk mail to your inbox. This process will save you time organizing your inbox in the future.

Lastly, the final tip is implementing the OHIO method. OHIO stands for Only Handle It Once. OHIO is very similar to the Four Ds method. At its core OHIO refers to dedicating specific times throughout the day to check your inbox. There is no need to linger on what D category an email belongs to. Spending too much time on email management defeats the true purpose of Inbox Zero.