The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 22.35

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Photo by Brian Tromp on Unsplash

How to get to Inbox Zero every day (even if you have thousands of emails now)

Does your inbox look something like this?

Never fear, you're not alone!

But here's the problem: if you have hundreds (or thousands) of emails in your inbox, your productivity is suffering—and you’re probably missing out on real opportunities and even real money.

Let’s start with why too many emails is such a bad idea, then I will show you how to go from Email Mayhem to Inbox Zero, and then how to stay there.

Why this is a really, really bad thing

Two reasons:

  1. It makes overwhelm worse
  2. You’ve lost at least one opportunity (maybe more)

1. It makes overwhelm worse

When you look at an inbox with hundreds (or even thousands) of emails, there’s a little light that goes on in your head that says: “I need to do something about this.”

Problem is, there’s already a lot of other little “pay attention to me” lights in your head. All those things you still have to get to, chores you have to do, clients you have to respond to, leads you need to follow up with…

Adding email mayhem to your Worry List is a recipe for getting even more overwhelmed. And email is not just one thing. It’s every single email—some more important than others.

Worst case, you spend all your time in an enhanced state of anxiety. And you get so used to it you think this is just how you normally feel.

2. You’ve lost at least one opportunity (maybe more)

Most of the time, we scan an email quickly to see if there’s anything of importance. Then we park it, knowing that we will get back to it. And before we know it, it’s been in our inbox for a week, two weeks…

And did you really read the email? Did you see the request for more information hidden in the middle of the third paragraph down?

How many of those missed opportunities are in your inbox right now? Even one opportunity could have been a big one.

How to get to Inbox Zero (even if you have thousands of emails)

OK, so enough of the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) stuff.

It should take you about 30 minutes to an hour to work through the four steps that will get you to Inbox Zero now:

1. Delete everything older than 10 days

If that makes you gasp for your breath, delete everything older than 30 days. Or, if you’re paranoid, archive them.

If it’s older than 10 days (or 30 days), it’s probably not relevant any more.

So just delete it. Bite the bullet and do it. You will feel a momentary pang of panic; that will pass.

2. Unsubscribe from mailing lists

Sort your inbox by sender. Find all the newsletters, marketing emails and other unsolicited emails, and unsubscribe from those lists. (Except the ones you still want to hear from of course, like mine, haha). Seriously, if my emails are not worth reading, unsubscribe.

Delete all remaining emails from those senders.

3. Deal with the remainder

Group your messages by conversation (or subject). This should collapse all the email threads (original plus replies) into one email in your email list.

Now start with the newest and apply the AART method:

  • Action it if you need to. Send a quick response to let the sender know you’ve seen it and let then know when they can expect a response.
  • Archive it if you don’t need to respond but you want to keep it
  • Refer it to someone else if they’re better able to handle it.
  • Trash it if you don’t need to respond and you don’t need to keep it.

Bonus tip: brief responses are usually better than long, drawn-out essays.

Your inbox should be (close to) empty

The only stuff remaining should be emails that you couldn't respond to quickly. Schedule time to work on them in your calendar.

Inbox Zero every day

It’s not that difficult to reach Inbox Zero every day. Here are the rules of the game:

  1. Turn off all email notifications. (Seriously, this is one of the biggest productivity gains you will ever make.)
  2. Only process emails two to three times per day. Schedule those times (max 30 minutes) in your calendar.
  3. Outside of these times, close down your email program.

Processing your emails

In your allotted email processing times, apply the AART system to quickly work through all the emails in your inbox: Action, Archive, Refer or Trash.

If an email requires more work than will fit into your email processing time slot, you can do one of two things:

  • Leave it in your inbox and schedule time to work on it. When you’re done with he work, respond to the email and archive (or delete) it. When someone responds, it will pop up in your inbox again.
  • If you have an email client that has a “snooze” function, schedule the email to pop up again at a time when you can work on it.

Let others know the new order of things

If people are used to getting almost instantaneous responses to their emails, you will need to condition them to the new order of things. If you’re working in a team, you may want to send them something like this:

Hi all, To get more stuff done, I’m only going to be checking my email three times a day at 8:00 am, noon and 4:00 pm. If there’s anything urgent that requires my immediate response, please call or text me.

Inbox Zero is not just bragging rights

Sure, brag about it if you want to. But more importantly, know that you have less to worry about, and you won’t be missing important stuff any more.

Inbox Zero is not just a state of mind—it’s also one of the things that will make you stand out as a professional.