Inbox Zero is My #1 Productivity Hack – Here’s the Guide to Getting It Done

Here’s a little snippet of an email I recently sent to my team:

“I want to get us all back on board the inbox zero train. I honestly believe it’s one of THE most effective things you can do for productivity.”

I sent out this email in the middle of one of our busiest times of the year. Why? Because it was absolutely crucial that no one was wasting a single minute dilly dallying in their inbox.

Inbox zero is a strategy for dealing with even the most insane inbox. It gets mentioned all the time on our daily and weekly check-ins. However,  it turned out there was a misconception on my team of what inbox zero actually meant. So I set out to clear up the questions and get us back on the right “train.”

Here’s what I needed to clarify: inbox zero does NOT mean having zero unread emails in your inbox. In means having ZERO emails in your inbox. Yup, zero. It looks like this:

I know what you’re thinking, and yes,  getting to inbox zero is waaaaay easier said than done. But if you make it a priority, it’ll become a habit you do almost without thinking. I strongly believe that it should be a priority for everyone, every week. (More on that in a second.)

So in an attempt to get my team to sharpen their inbox zero skills, I put together a guide of best practices to clear their inboxes.

Here’s that guide, copied and pasted for your enjoyment (OK, for your productivity, really):

You should hit INBOX ZERO every week—every day is even better! Mondays are a good day to devote some time to getting to zero.

–> Why inbox zero?

  1. When your inbox is full, stuff slips through the cracks – you don’t see emails that come in, and you forget to respond to people.
  2. Mental whitespace: your mental and online workspace feels clean and clear, and you can’t waste time by scanning your emails deciding what to do next, or reading an email yet again that you’ve already read!
  3. TIO – Touch It Once: TIO is a valuable habit – TIO means if you read an email, respond to it! Sometimes we revisit the same emails over and over, thinking we’ll respond later. Do it now! If you take the time to read, take the time to respond. If you need more time or resources, just respond to the email letting the person know that and when you’ll get back to them.

inbox zero quote

How to Achieve Inbox Zero!

ARCHIVE EVERYTHING! We need a record of every email sent from our company – so don’t delete, archive.

We don’t get to inbox zero because there are pesky emails that want to live in our inbox – here’s how we deal with each type:

1. A task

Forward it to Wrike [our project management software] with an assignee, due date, and any other info it needs

2. An idea with no clear action plan

Get clarity! Decide whether to put it into action (forward it to Wrike), discard it, or do it in the future (you can assign in Wrike with a much later date, or chat with the Project Manager on future scheduling).

3. An idea/resource that you might want to reference later

Associate it with a project! Stick it in a Confluence [our wiki] space (or appropriate Google doc or Dropbox) or create a new one, or add it to our future ideas page in Confluence.

4. You’re waiting for someone to get back to you

Sometimes we keep emails in our inbox because we need to hear back from the other person and we don’t want to forget about it – BOOMERANG it instead! [Boomerang is an add-on app that you can enable in Gmail. It allows you to schedule emails to be sent later as well as schedule emails to be resent sent back to you.] Boomerang it for a week later, then archive it.

5. You’ll need to respond, but not quite yet

Maybe you’re still waiting on a piece of information, or maybe you just don’t want to bug them yet. BOOMERANG THAT SHIZZ! Use Boomerang to send you a reminder at an appropriate time. Always err on the side over over-boomeranging. You might want to use it for every email you send when you’re coordinating w/ someone outside of the company (or inside! But if you are using inbox zero, you can’t ever forget to get back to someone)

6. You just don’t know what to do with it

Maybe you don’t know who needs the info, or what to say in response. Reach out and ask for help! Don’t just let it sit there.

Note that Boomerang is an essential tool for achieving inbox bliss –  Boomerang early and often!

That’s the guide! It may seem simple but I would put a money-back guarantee on it if this blog post weren’t completely free. :)

If you think your tribe would benefit from this productivity booster, use the share buttons to the left of this post and spread this guide around!

What tricks do you have up your sleeve?

Just because this is how I manage my inbox doesn’t mean it’s the only way! Do you have your own system in place for making sure you don’t miss a thing in your inbox? Do you set aside a specific time in the day for customer questions?

What about all those newsletters (like The Dash) you love reading every week?

Let me know how you hack through your inbox jungle in the comments below!

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About Laura Roeder

Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who gives businesses of all sizes the tools they need to make their mark on the web. She is the creator of the social media scheduling software Edgar, as well as social media marketing web courses like Creating Fame and Social Brilliant.

Comments

  1. Inbox zero is beautiful! I haven’t yet implemented the Touch It Once policy, but Boomerang has totally revolutionized the way I use email. Absolutely love it.

  2. This is such a great tip, Laura! Inbox zero… that elusive, mystical thing…

    So since you asked for our own tricks, I’ve GOT to share with you my new favey fave:
    the Email Game by Baydin.

    I get more points the faster I go through emails – either delete, move, forward, respond… You can even Boomerang them from within the game. Rackin’ up dem points.

    You’re a winner. I’m a winner. ? This is all happening so fast… #petshopboys

  3. Amazing tips. Here my question, how do you deal with all the emails coming from all the awesome lists you are subscribed to?
    This is my big challenge, any tip on that?
    Thanks.

    • Kristina | Team LKR says:

      Hey Virginia,
      You might want to look into unroll.me. You can use that service to batch-unsubscribe to email lists and also to add some or all newsletters you get to a “Daily Rollup” so they’re not cluttering up your mailbox. Another option is, if you’re using Gmail, create filters for some or all of your newsletters, maybe have them skip the inbox and best sent directly to a folder/label so you have them all in one place.. just not in your main inbox. Hope this helps!

  4. Hey Laura! These are some great tips. I’m a big fan of using the filters in gmail to automatically take care of some of these actions for me. Also, canned responses (also a Gmail lab) is a lifesaver for answering those common emails. I actually work with clients to help them reach Inbox Zero and have put together a training program (http://inbox-zero.net)

  5. Personally, I love the TIO strategy. Great ideas for managing gmail with Boomerang too.