The one where I bust the Inbox Zero myth and share actionable strategies for mastering your email inbox.
Hello and welcome to episode 26 of the Creative Me podcast.
First things first, if I sound a little bit croaky today, I've been suffering from a cold and sore throat, so you've got the husky version of Martine today! Not an ideal way to start 2017, nevertheless I'm powering through, and I'm not going to let it stop me achieving everything I have planned for this month and the months to come.
Because it's the start of a brand-new year, I thought it would be a good idea to focus today's episode on productivity; specifically the concept of Inbox Zero. It's not a myth; it is a real thing, but it's not necessarily what you think it is.
What Inbox Zero Isn't
Most people think Inbox Zero is JUST about having an empty email inbox. That's not exactly true. The creator of the Inbox Zero concept, Merlin Mann, explains:
“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your attention, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many messages are in your inbox - it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.”
What Inbox Zero is
Inbox Zero is all about the process you use to manage your email inbox.
Faking Inbox Zero
It is possible to completely fake Inbox Zero. I heard this referred to once as "declaring email bankruptcy". You could go through your inbox and delete everything, working on the basis that if something super urgent, they'll email you again.
But this isn't Inbox Zero because in a matter of days your inbox will fill up again and you're going to be in the same situation that you were last time. Clearly, this isn't a sustainable way to get on top of your emails.
- It's not always the best method of communication.
- Email generates more email.
- It creates an urge to respond (especially if you have your email program running in the background when you're working at your computer).
- Your email inbox is not a task manager.
- Email is always there - on your computer, your mobile device... in the back of your mind.
I'll elaborate on these issues (particularly number 4) in a future blog post.
The Big Clean Up
To start the Inbox Zero process, you are going to need to dedicate some time having a big clean up of your inbox. You're going to have to start with a reasonably blank slate to implement a new process and to make a success of it.
Here's how to do your clean up:
- Create a subfolder underneath your inbox folder and call it ARCHIVE
- Drag all emails that have been dealt with (but you might need to refer to at a later date) into the ARCHIVE folder
- Delete emails that are dealt with and don't need to go into the ARCHIVE folder
You only need one archive folder; you don't need different folders for different topics. The search function on most email programs now is powerful enough to help you locate any archived email you need quickly and easily.
The emails left in your inbox now are those which require action. Leave them there for now.
To Do List
This is a side note, but bearing in mind your email inbox is not a task manager, you do need to have a separate to-do list system. Options include:
Folder Set Up
To complete your email processing system, you need to set up two more subfolders (you already have ARCHIVE). These are REPLY and WAITING.
Here's an explanation of what each folder is for:
- REPLY: emails that will take longer than two minutes to deal with go in this folder. For example, and email asking you for your opinion on something (this would require thought).
- WAITING: emails where you are waiting for a response, or you want to process later, go in this folder. For example, you have delegated a task, and you are waiting for an update.
- ARCHIVE: emails that have been dealt with, but you might like to refer to at a later date, go to this folder.
The Two-Minute Rule
The two-minute timeframe is really important to explain. When you are processing your inbox, I encourage you to apply the two-minute rule. If you have an email that will take two minutes or less to deal with, you may as well deal with it there and then because it's going yo take you longer than two minutes to process it.
- Allocate email processing time during your day
- Log out of your email program at other times
Check out the diagram outlining the Inbox Zero workflow at the end of this post.
What About You?
Feel free to share your productivity hacks with me via Twitter (martineeellis) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.