26 Jul How to Achieve Inbox Zero and Keep Your Email Under Control
Have you ever started your workday feeling weighed down by the number of emails in your inbox? Do you feel like no matter how many emails you respond to, your inbox never seems to get any smaller? You’re not alone.
According to Radicati, business professionals receive upwards of 100 emails per day, with that number expecting to increase each year. Despite being spoilt for choice when it comes to digital communication tools, email remains one of the most popular forms of business communication.
We’ve previously discussed top tips and tricks to improve email productivity. Today, we’re going to show you how to keep your email inbox under control and share our top strategies for how to achieve inbox zero and boost email productivity.
What is Inbox Zero, and How Does It Help Your Productivity?
Writer and presenter Merlin Mann developed the inbox zero technique as an approach to email management to keep your inbox decluttered and clear. The goal is to maintain zero unread emails every day.
But why should you care and even want to achieve inbox zero? Turns out, this method of establishing a ‘hierarchy of action’ has been shown to boost your overall productivity.
By using categorisation and folders to sort and prioritise requests as they come in, you will review everything that has been sent to you and make quick decisions about what you will do with that message.
The benefit of an organised inbox is that new emails that come in don’t get mixed up with emails you’ve already dealt with. This means that you can avoid re-reading emails, which reduces processing time.
In addition, new emails that come in at a steady stream then can’t push important emails down the screen, where you might forget about them. It can also help you avoid feeling overwhelmed by a cluttered inbox.
Are you wondering how to achieve inbox zero? Keep your email inbox under control by following four simple steps.
Step 1: Set up workflow with folders
Do you want to know how to manage your email better? Creating a folder structure is an excellent inbox management technique.
Think about the types of emails that you receive daily. For many of us, emails can be broken down into groups or categories. For example:
- “To do” – emails that need more than 15 minutes to action
- “Speak to” – emails you need to discuss with someone, or you’re waiting for a reply on
- “Follow up” – when you’re waiting on responses from others
- “Delegated” – emails and tasks that you’ve delegated
- “Reading” – emails that have things you definitely need to read within scheduled time blocks
- “Someday” – emails that you’d like to read if you have time
Or you could simplify even further and use three main categories: action required, awaiting a response and reference emails that contain important information.
We can use categorisation to organise our emails and set up our inbox system workflow.
First, we create folders for each category of email. Then we simply use the folders to process our emails. At the start of each morning, quickly sort all of your emails by moving them into the relevant folders and archiving or deleting unimportant emails.
If you have already amassed thousands of emails, we recommend moving them all into a “To process” folder and scheduling regular times in your calendar to sort through them until all is done.
Process new unread emails first, but come back to your “To process” folder regularly so that you don’t forget about them.
The best organising folder system for you depends on the nature of your work.
Keep things simple, and group like with like – this will make it quicker and easier to find what you need when you need it. Don’t be afraid to delete emails that you don’t need.
Step 2: Automate by using email rules and add-ons
A large part of inbox zero is about efficiently processing and sorting a large number of emails into their effective priority folders. To make this process as smooth as possible, become familiar with using keyboard shortcuts and
Quick Steps to help sort and move emails to their respective folders and quickly archive or delete unimportant emails. In Outlook, many Quick Steps can be assigned to a keyboard shortcut, which makes this process even faster.
Another helpful automation tool is Quick Parts, which allows you to set up templates for frequently used phrases or text blocks, so you don’t have to retype them each time.
You can also automate email processing by applying Outlook inbox rules to easily move emails to different folders based on a specific sender or subject line.
This is especially useful for emails such as newsletters that you are interested in but may not have the time to read right now.
Add-ons are also useful tools for saving time. Try integrating your Outlook with apps that you’re using, like Dropbox or Trello.
For example, you can automate turning new Trello cards into events. There are lots of automation options to explore on Zapier.
Step 3: Use the right communication channels outside of email
Remember that email is not the only form of communication in the workplace. Despite being the most popular form of communication, it does not suit all purposes.
Sometimes long email chains can be clunky and inefficient, which can lead to a loss of important information.
For project or workflow-related communication, tools like Trello can be better suited.
For a quick question, Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Discord can be faster and more efficient.
These platforms and tools are better able to split the workflow by creating separate team, topic or project channels into the broader company, which makes it easier to find, send and receive files within conversations to keep things organised.
It’s important for employees to know which channels should be used for which purpose to communicate with their team. If you don’t know your team’s protocols and communication norms, check with your colleagues or manager.
Step 4: Take responsibility for achieving inbox zero
Only you can hold yourself accountable for reaching and maintaining inbox zero. Be honest with yourself and set realistic time expectations for processing and actioning emails. Don’t be a slave to your inbox.
Turn off notifications and only process emails during scheduled times in the day so that you can focus on more important work tasks.
Respect your time and your reader’s time by composing clear and concise emails. No one wants to read through a long email to find out what you need them to do.
Do you need the reader to take action on something? Or is the email just for information? Spell out what you want in the subject line, including the deadline.
For example: “For Approval: Topic XX, Due Date YY” use bullet points and minimise the thread whenever possible.
Always put summary and action items at the top of the email chain so that your reader knows what they need to do. Assume that every reader is busy, and being concise is your way of respecting their time.
By making your outcoming emails more effective, you’ll not only save your reader time, but you’ll also save yourself time in back and forth clarification emails and encourage an equally succinct reply.
If you achieve and maintain inbox zero every day, you get the added productivity bonus of avoiding unnecessary emails that chase you for unactioned tasks.
Efficiently managing your inbox is a skill. Like any skill, learning how to manage emails takes practice and patience.
By using inbox zero to sort your emails, you can get through a large number of them quickly and identify and prioritise those that require your attention.
At PEPworldwide, we help individuals and teams implement inbox management techniques to improve efficiency. Find out more about how we can help you and your team build productive habits, regardless of where you work.