7 Ways to Get to Inbox Zero

inbox zeroMy email inbox has been threatening my very existence as of late. It’s been a tireless harpy that calls me in with it’s siren songs and then sucks the most productive hours of my day into the black hole of inbox doom.

Seem dramatic? Well having a cluttered email inbox is no laughing matter my friend – it’s actually one of the biggest time sucks in the world! And with the number of emails I get per day skyrocketing past 100 (not including spam!) I knew it was time to optimalize my email inbox.

Below are the 7 things I did to reach inbox zero and now that I’ve reached it my productivity has sky rocketed, the sun is shining and I don’t want to chuck my computer at the door every time I open my inbox.

  1. Use Gmail. Thankfully, Google’s email client still blocks a good chunk of the spam I receive on a daily basis from trolls who inhabit the Internet’s under belly. I’ve found Gmail the best email client to use because of it’s the simple interface and the fact that I can simply switch between different email handles all from one location. No desktop software to haggle with and very little fuss, Gmail is the first step on your journey to inbox zero.
  2. Filter everything. Filter out everything that’s repetitive and non-essential. That means messages from Twitter that let you know when @XXXCheeseburger is following you and especially those pesky and addicting emails that tell you when a friend has posted a link to pictures of LOLcats on your wall. This stuff will suck your time away fast and ensure that you NEVER reach inbox zero. Either ‘turn off’ the option for non-essential sites to email you notifications or create a filter in Gmail (which you can learn how to do here).
  3. Unsubscribe from only the most essential email newsletters. You know how 99% of the sites on the internet are garbage? 99% of newsletter are as well. It’s up to you to judge what email subscriptions add real value to your life – but chances are that most subscriptions don’t. There are probably 5 email newsletters I actually like getting – (one of them is Startup Digest). The rest I unsubscribe to as they come in – sometimes I don’t know how I was subscribed in the first place but it doesn’t matter – unless they provide “holy cow” value they’re unsubscribed to.
  4. Start from the bottom and go up. Now that you’ve done the above and filtered out most emails that aren’t essential it’s time to start attacking your inbox. Don’t cherry pick the most interesting emails – no matter how “urgent” some may seem – this will only reward your bad inbox behavior. Force yourself to start from the bottom when opening and dealing with emails and go up. Once you’ve trained yourself in this email management tactic you’ll find the steps below will fall right into place.
  5. Use the open-once rule. Do not touch an email more than once – I don’t care how bad you want to leave it sitting there or open it a few times to “mull” it over. Think of it like a mailbox. You don’t open your mail – then when you realize you don’t know what to do with it – set it back in the mailbox to let it veg for a while. Instead force yourself to make a decision right there – what “bin” does this email go in. Is it trash? Is it for someone else to do? Is it something only you can act on?
  6. Use the no-email-gets-left-behind rule: If you think about it there is ALWAYS  a next action for each and every email that hits your inbox. Even if you sit there stumped for a few minutes – don’t leave that open email until you decide what the next act is and do it. This will mean you either: file your email, trash it, take the pertinent information and assign it in a to-do list, make a note of it or forward it on to someone else (delegation – my favorite!). For more information on this approach read Getting Things Done a book that will change the way you organize your inbox and your life.
  7. Check it Twice a Day. Twice a day is the maximum amount you should open up your email inbox (even less if you can swing it) and check emails. I check my email at roughly 10am and then again at 6pm. When I follow my above rules this means the last check of the day is usually a cake walk, though the first can be gruesome. The more you religiously use these email guidelines, the easier it will be to breeze through your inbox during your two “check points” and move on to the more profitable and productive parts of your day.

Bonus ‘Inbox Zero’ Tip:

Get at least one of your major goals for the day done before you answer email in the morning. This will help you train yourself to get out of the habit of running to your inbox first thing (which is just silly and distracting) and it will increase productivity by leaps and bounds.

If you don’t know how to execute on goals during your day listen to the tip I picked up from Jeff Slobotski and set only 3 main goals per day. At first, this seems crazy, but if you take your to-do list and figure out what is the absolute most essential – then assign those top 3 items to get done by the days end – you’ll notice a huge difference in the way you work and the productivity you experience.

Bonus, Bonus Tip

Hire a virtual assistant, then train them for a week on your email inbox protocol. This can be sharing a screen with your VA each day while you go through your inbox or just helping them go through your inbox and judge what merits a response and what can be immediately assigned to a to-do list or delegated to another person. This way you can have your virtual assistant learn how you’d empty your inbox and then they can do it for you – alerting you of only the most pertinent emails that need your addressing and dealing with all the others without you having to lose an hour a day to fight the empty inbox war.

Are there other inbox tips I missed? Feel free to add on in the comments below or just say hi, I love to hear from you!