Nerd Productivity

What’s the big deal about INBOX ZERO?

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash
Inbox Zero

All of us suffer from chronically overflowing email inboxes. Ever since Merlinn Mann of ​43 Folders​ came up with the concept, ‘inbox zero’ has become a popular productivity mantra.

Mann’s intention was more about decluttering your email, kind of how you would tidy up your desk. Clear your inbox and your head at the same time. Get your brain out of email and focused on ​important work​.

Over time, however, Inbox Zero has become a goal in itself, even though cleaning an inbox isn’t necessarily the best use of productive time.

Rather than blindly applying productivity mantras such as Inbox Zero it might help to understand the ‘why’ behind them. Inbox Zero is important for two reasons.

1. Your inbox is not your to-do list

First, and this is the key idea behind inbox zero, is that your email inbox should not be your to-do list, since it isn’t controlled by you. You are better off taking control of your own to-do lists – processing them and prioritising them to work for you, rather than allowing the rest of the world to set your priorities.

2. A big messy inbox creates overwhelm and anxiety.

Just like a cluttered desk, or an overly ​long to-do list​, an email inbox with unanswered emails can be anxiety-inducing. The way to get to inbox zero, or at least close to it, is by allotting a couple of blocks of time during your day, to ‘process’ your inbox, as follows:

  1. Emails to act on go into your to-do list (or an action folder).
  2. Emails to read or refer to later go into a read-later folder or a project-specific folder or get archived.
  3. Emails that take 2-3 minutes or less to deal with should be replied to right away. You can reply to emails quicker by writing short rapid replies – no more than ​five sentences​ per email.
  4. Emails that take longer than 2-3 mins to reply should be added to your to-do list, where they can be evaluated along with all the other things you need to do.
  5. The remaining emails, if any, are meant to be ignored and should be deleted or archived.

Ultimately nothing should be left in your inbox.

One of the best tools to automatically filter your email and make it much easier to get to Inbox Zero is ​Sanebox​. I use Sanebox to automatically organise my email and make sure only important emails show up in my inbox.

Is Inbox Zero right for you?

While inbox zero can be beneficial for some, it may not work for everyone and could even lead to decreased productivity in certain cases.

Striving for inbox zero can become an obsession, making you spend too much time and effort on email management rather than on more impactful tasks. Constantly checking and replying to emails can disrupt workflow and hinder deep focus on important work.

It’s essential to find a balance that works for you, considering your work style, priorities, and the nature of your role, rather than blindly adhering to inbox zero as the sole measure of productivity.

Ultimately, the value of pursuing inbox zero lies in its ability to improve organization, speed up communication, and reduce mental load.

I personally rarely ever make it to inbox zero. I’ve made peace with having 3-5 emails still in my inbox after I’m done processing. Anything more than that causes anxiety.

Ultimately, Inbox Zero is not about having zero emails in your inbox. It’s about having zero stress from your emails.

Up Your Productivity Game.

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