The Zero Inbox

The Zero Inbox.

People hold onto emails like they are dollars.

There are oodles of e-mail applications that are all trying to help you get to this point. You’ve heard of this but for most people the concept of having zero email in their inbox is like finishing grocery shopping. Eventually you just have to go back, and there are always those things that you buy that just linger around in the cupboards. Similarly, you may have a handful of emails that stick around. And that’s ok.

The idea here is to keep your inbox volumes as low as possible. You should be able to respond to almost every email addressed to you within a business day.

Over the years I have worked with all levels of employees who don’t respond to their emails. Many take the stance that they are too busy to respond to all of their email. They get too much email. The problem with taking the stance of a proactive excuse for not responding is that not responding is a very slippery slope. Ignore one on purpose, and eventually you will ignore one by accident. It is also perceived as rude, dissonant, self-important, lazy, unproductive, incapable, and many other negative adjectives.

When I’ve asked (or peeked) into some of these inboxes I’m flabbergasted so see often see hundreds, and even more often thousands, of messages in their inbox and thousands of messages that are unread in all of their folders.

I’m going to be the one to break it to you. You cannot effectively manage email if you leave everything in your inbox. While some people are better than others at it, it always fails.

Following are the main high level techniques I leverage to keep my inbox volumes as low as possible, while providing great response times.

Don’t Be a Slave to Email

You shouldn’t need to be tied to your inbox all day long, as addictive as that can be. And if not following subsequent steps in these guidelines will make it feel like that much more of a waste of time.
This is exemplified while traveling. Many times while traveling you will have a little bit of time in the morning and/or some time in the afternoon to manage your inbox. Even when going on vacation one of the most overwhelming thoughts is getting back and having to catch up via email. 
If there are dozens of emails on a certain topic in your inbox after an absence pick up the phone and ask for a summary. It will likely be faster and more accurate. Then file, delete, or archive those messages.
Otherwise even when your schedule is very busy schedule two times a day mentally where there will be time to get through email. Typically all amounts of email can get dealt with in a business day if proper filtering and deleting are being done. After returning from a week vacation I can typically get through all of my emails within a couple of hours using these tactics.

Messages That Need a Response

I’m starting with this message type because;
  1. It highlights how important messages can get lost in the masses and never get responded to.
  2. It applies to all of the message types.
Instead of looking at a message and doing nothing, do something. Respond. If you have a question to ask before providing a final response, ask it. If you know the answer to a question, answer it. If you need more information, ask for it. This may sound trivial. It’s really as easy as that. Some people really like to think a lot before responding. This can take some practice. Think about your response for a minute, write it down, and hit send. That way you can delete that message/thread and move on with your life. Most emails are not as life altering as we think.

Personal vs Work

Keep these separate. If you keep you work and personal emails separate you may have a better chance at managing one better than the other at the very least. My mother doesn’t even know my work email. Even when family and friends get my work contact I ask them not to use it, forward the message to my personal account, and respond from there.

This also offers some additional piece of mind. When you want to step away from your work but still see what’s going on with the rest of your life, they aren’t so intertwined, surrounded by each other.

External Mailing Lists

Everybody subscribes to mailing lists. Some immediately come to mind like retailers, magazines, sports, forum digests, etc.
Some of them you never read. You know which ones they are. Unsubscribe. Get them out of your inbox and stop having to think about every one of these.
Some of them you like to at least scan the subjects or get to them from time to time. This is where you want to create a filter and automatically move these into a folder. Get them out of the way until you have time to get to them. When you do look at them and decide you don’t want to go any deeper get rid of them using delete or archive.

Internal Mailing Lists

These are typically going to be work related. This does not include all_in_company type emails, those are different, sort of. However if the all_in_company messages are frequent and too long for you to get to in a day then treat them the same. These are more the internal chatter mailing lists. We have many of them for people in the same roles to ask questions to the larger group. You are not expected to read or respond to any of them. They are there when you are looking for an answer or want to provide one. Create a filter that automatically moves these out of your inbox now and move them into a folder. Once a week go back to that folder. If you don’t have time or inclination to read them delete or archive the messages.
The other type of mailing lists are the automated informational messages. Someone uploaded a new file to the shared drive. A new order came in. A report was generated. The intention of these messages is to look for things that stand out. Filter these and move them to a folder. Take a peek at that folder once a day or once a week and then delete or archive the messages.

Everything Else

At this point you should only have messages in your inbox that are sent directly to you that you need to consume and potentially respond to.
If it’s something you need to read, read it, then file it, delete it, or archive it.
If it’s something you need to respond to, respond to it, then file it, delete it, or archive it.
There will always be a few messages left in there. Some examples of messages I frequently have lingering in my inbox are;
  • Upcoming events/meetings. I like to keep the invitations handy in case it needs to be sent to someone. Sometimes the email may have content that the calendar invite does not, although most of the time I update the calendar invite. There are also a couple about some people I am meeting this week and I like to keep them there until the event is over for some reason.
  • Todo’s. One of them is for a proof of concept I want to try and don’t want to forget. 
  • Requests. Another is for some documentation someone advised me to create that I haven’t got around to.
The recurring theme here is to take action as soon as you can when looking at an email, then moving or deleting that email to move it out of the way. There will be many more to follow that one and people will likely appreciate it much more to get a response than not.
Hope this helps!

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Insecurity authored by asdfasdfasdfasdf. Read the original post at: