I try every month or two to achieve inbox zero — i.e. no emails in my inbox. A colleague on social media recently mentioned the sizable inbox she had. It prompted me to write this little post on the steps I take to achieve inbox zero on a semi-regular basis (this one's for you Anna Robbins!). Of course not everyone feels the need to achieve this, but I feel that it is a nice little productivity win for me, and when you achieve it, there is some positive internal pressure to keep it that way. So for those to whom this might be helpful, here it is...
1: I am ruthless with the unsubscribe button
I am subscribed to very few newsletters and mail lists. It needs to be something that I read 75% of the times I receive it to stay subscribed to. As soon as I have received a newsletter/mail list and have 3+ in my inbox and unread, that is a sign that I am not really finding enough value in the email to keep receiving it, and I unsubscribe.
2: I use Mail Filters to Siphon eMails
There are a number of mass emails that come from my institution. Rather than have these clutter my inbox, I have set up a mail filter to move these automatically to a folder. I then make it a point to peruse this folder and delete every few weeks. This allows my inbox to remain clear of the less important material. This same trick can also be used for newsletters and mail lists.
3. I use Gmail for Archiving
Many emails come to us that are important to keep on file. Quite often people make the mistake (at least I think it's a mistake) of developing an elaborate email folders system for storage. If you have an assistant doing that job for you, then go ahead. But for most of us, the search capabilities of our mail client, and especially of Gmail through the browser, is powerful enough to find those emails, should you need them again. Too often people leave emails in the their inbox to properly file at a later time. This can be a major source of clutter. Instead, have a simple archiving system consisting of just a few folders, and quickly dump emails into them.
4. Batch Task Your Email Time
I try as best I can to look at email only twice a day (this is what I need to work on the most). Constantly checking your email is such a waste of time and really breaks your concentration on more important work. I also make sure that notifications on my computer and devices don't notify me of new emails – I don't need the distraction.
5. To-Do, 2-Minutes, Delete, Flag, or Archive
If I remember correctly, I picked this up from David Allen. When it comes time to go to my inbox, I try to have a system for what to do with every email. If the email requires a response that will only take 2 minutes (either a task or a reply) I do it immediately. If the email indicates another task I need to do, I create a quick task in my to-do app (The Hit List for Mac and iOS). If I simply don't need it, I delete it. If I should keep it, I archive it. The one time (when I'm on my game) that an email stays in my inbox is if the email requires a longer reply. In this case, I flag it and it remains where it is. This generally is the only exception to my inbox philosophy of not using it as my to-do list.
There you have it! Do you have any email tips or tricks that I didn't mention? I'd love to hear about them in the comments