Inbox Zero

by May 10, 2019

Picture this: it’s a Wednesday morning, and you’ve just logged on to your computer at work. You have your coffee in hand, and you are ready to tackle the day. You open up Outlook and all of a sudden your computer starts to move at snail speed as your inbox loads.

Quick! You need to find an email from last week to figure out where your next meeting is. Ryan from a few desks over stops by your desk to ask if you saw his email from Monday – you remember seeing he sent you an email but can’t remember what it says…or if you even opened it. You have 27 unread emails (but you think you’ve read at least 10 of them and then marked them as unread to remind yourself to read them again). The anxiety is building, and you are only 5 minutes into the day.

This was me a few years ago. I had thousands of emails in my inbox, and I tried to keep a detailed flagging and labeling system because my inbox doubled as my to-do list and calendar. That was until one of my colleagues introduced me to inbox zero.

Now let’s get something clear, inbox zero isn’t about legalistically keeping your inbox at ‘zero’, but it’s about keeping your brain out of your inbox. Merlin Mann was the first person to coin the term ‘Inbox Zero’ in his Google Tech Talk, and I’ve summarised a few of his pillars:

  • Your inbox should only be a place for emails you haven’t read yet
  • Process your inbox to zero each time you check your email (more on this later)
  • Keep your email program closed for most of the day
  • Always respond immediately to emails that you can answer in two minutes or less

Process to Zero

  • Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer or Do – All emails fall into these 5 categories.
    • Delete – Archive is your friend. Read the email once, and check the relevance. If you fall into the trap of leaving it in your inbox, you will end up reading it again and again until you finally determine you don’t need it. Don’t procrastinate with this – read it and make a decision.
    • Delegate – Are you the right person for this email? If not, you can delegate it to someone who would be more appropriate to answer the email.
    • Respond – Can you respond in 2 minutes or less? If so, do it! If not…
    • Defer – If it’s a 2+ minute email, you may need to defer it until you have more time to give it the proper amount of attention. You might use a “To-do/Action required” folder or, you might schedule appropriate time in your diary when you can give the task more attention.
      • Bonus tip #1: When I schedule email-related tasks in my diary, I attach the email at hand for easy access, then I file the email in its ‘forever home’ so I don’t have to double handle it later. I might even jot down a few notes in the appointment description in my diary so I can jump straight into the task when the time comes.
      • Bonus tip #2: Every email I send that requires a response, gets a 5 minute dedicated ‘follow up’ appointment in my diary, so it doesn’t fall off my radar.
  • Do – Act on the email and move on.

Bonus Tips:

Folders, Filing, and Freedom

Find your groove when it comes to how you are going to file your emails. You might have a folder for each team you work with, or a folder for each of your projects. Whichever approach you take, ensure it isn’t too time-consuming. It doesn’t need to be rocket science, in fact, the more complicated the system, the less likely you’ll stick with it, or will end up wasting even more time looking around for specific emails. Remember, when in doubt, lean heavily into the ‘search’ feature.

Be the Change You Want to See

A personal area of improvement for me is writing shorter emails. I’m naturally long-winded so writing long emails feels necessary to me (kinda like writing long blogs!). That said, a long email is extremely inefficient. It takes more of your time to write, more of your colleague’s time to read and then even more of their time to respond. My 2019 goal is to write emails with a maximum of five sentences (the same length as this paragraph!).

Close *bing* Your *bing* Email *bing* Throughout *bing* The *bing* Day

Imagine being in a meeting and trying to give someone your undivided attention, yet your colleagues keep popping into the room, making a loud noise, waving at you to get your attention and then starting to tell you what they need but leaving after the first 2 sentences. How annoying! That is what we do when we have email alerts on our computer. A much more effective way to manage your work and your inbox is to schedule time to check in with your inbox and process it to zero.

Nobody’s Perfect

With all of this in mind, remember that no one is perfect. Give yourself grace during busy seasons but always try and come back to these principals to refresh your mind (and your inbox). Celebrate your small wins every day, even if it’s just getting to see the ‘inbox zero’ hot air balloon on your inbox home page…



(This blog is dedicated to my colleague, Ryan, who currently has 15,241 emails in his inbox. I believe in you, Ryan – you too can get to inbox zero!)


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

By Becca Cole

By Becca Cole

Recruitment Advisor

Becca Cole is a Project Officer on the Careers team working closely with the Recruitment Advisors and Career Consultants. She has been working for UTS Careers since 2015 and has previously worked as an Administrator and Recruitment Advisor. She has a Bachelor of Social Work degree from the University of North Texas and a Postgraduate Certificate in Career Education and Development from RMIT.