Get Your Email Inbox to ZERO Every Day

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Read to the end of this article to get the free worksheet you can use to get your email Inbox to ZERO!

Corporate america is driven by email. It is amazing how this indirect, impersonal, emotionless (except when there is emotion), one way communication tool exploded and now drives so much. In my career I’ve had from tens to hundreds of emails arrive in my email box every day. Over the years I developed a strategy that worked for me and so many people around me as I shared my secrets. You can do this here is how.

This is my three step plan for 0 emails in my inbox every day:

  1. Your Inbox is a triage zone only!
  2. Emails that take longer than 3 minutes are actually appointments
  3. Stop reacting to emails immediately

Triage Zone

The most important shift I had to make was to stop using my email inbox as task storage and to-do storage and unread email storage. When you do this and you get a lot of email in a day you end up with an inbox that only gets bigger. You start using unread to mean undone. You start using color coding. You start self-imposing the Important flag.

In the end it just becomes a mess and you are one more person complaining about how there are thousands of emails in your inbox and using your inbox as an excuse for when you miss something. STOP IT!

The change you need to make is to start considering your inbox a triage zone. Email comes in, gets triaged, and goes out immediately.

When you make this shift then you are ready to get to zero and it is EASY!

Now that you’ve drank the coolaid and had the cookies I need to get you going on what to do with your emails. First off: There are just three things you can do with an email:

  1. Handle it
  2. Assign time to it
  3. Store it in case you need it again

Let’s get into these in the next section.

Emailed Appointments

Emails are so many different things. Some people send you appointments. Some people send you tasks. Some are reminders. Some are harassment. Some are fun. Some you want to keep just in case you need them in the future. And, some you send yourself to keep yourself out of trouble later (the CYA file).

Every time you get an email you need to do one of three things with it:

  1. Handle it
  2. Assign time to it
  3. Store it

Handling an Email

If you’re handling triage of your inbox and an email warrants your action you have a decision to make. Do I do it now or do I do it later.

My rule of thumb is that if you can handle it within 3 minutes then do it now. If it takes longer than that I make an appointment with myself to do it.

Assign Time To It

If an email is going to take more than 3 minute to handle then I setup an appointment with myself to do it. Let’s face it, most emails in the over-three-minutes category are more like 30 minutes or 60 minutes of work so I don’t end up making a lot of 5 minute appointments.

This one shift is amazing because it lets you control your time with your calendar and clear things out of your inbox.

To make an appointment with yourself in Outlook:

  1. Drag the email to the calendar
  2. Setup the appointment for when you have time
  3. Attach the email to the appointment (so you can reply to it when it’s done)
  4. Delete it from your Inbox

BOOM

If you’re in Inbox, Gmail, or countless other systems you’re on your own for the instructions… just use this tactic.

Store It

Yes, you probably store a lot of email. In corporate I was one of the people always archiving email off to files on my computer so I wouldn’t hit the storage limit where they lock you out of sending new emails.

Some emails do not require your action AND need to be kept for future reference. In this case, get it out of your inbox. Preferably you put it in one big folder with everything else and just search for what you need if that day comes. This is better than trying to manage an infinite email filing folder set.

You likely even get email that you automatically know is just for storage… in this case, do what you can to create a rule that automatically stores it so you don’t even have to waste time reading it.

Stop Reacting Immediately

Okay, the last step is to stop letting email interrupt you. Email is an asynchronous (big word, I know) communication method so you should not feel obligated to let it interrupt you. I personally set up a 30 minute email appointment with myself three times per day. This allows me 90 minutes to handle the three-minute-and-under tasks, store emails, and assign them time on my calendar every day.

When my boss inevitably wants to schedule time with me over that email handling appointment I just move my email appointment.

I also do the following:

  1. Turn off all new email notifications
  2. Turn off my email client (I get meeting reminders on my phone)
  3. Stop checking my email unless I’m in an email handling appointment

Making The Change

So, here’s the worksheet you can use to get to ZERO emails in your inbox.