Today I’m sitting at a huge indoor playground, my son is here for a birthday party. I brought my laptop with the intension to ”write something” 🙂 . Earlier this week, I saw the hashtag #ZeroInbox mentioned by one of the persons that I’m following on Twitter. It seemed like a big deal, that #ZeroInbox was reached (meaning no emails in your inbox). I have that all the time, so I started to wonder why that is important, and maybe if I should write something about how I achieve it.
First of all, I’ll set you into my context. I get about 50 – 100 emails every working day. Some of you may receive a lot more than that, some of you less, but I assume the amount I get is pretty average. Many of the emails I get, are from the fact that I participate in email-lists (for example alerts of status changes in a ticket system). Maybe 10 – 20 emails per day are coming from other persons.
What are the reasons to keep ”zero inbox”? For me they are:
- I don’t feel any stress that there are things in my inbox that are important, and that may need my urgent attention. Checking the inbox regularly prevents that from happening.
- Very seldom things get ”lost in the inbox”. I have a system to keep track of the things I need to do.
- I have a possibility to act immediately when something pops up. There is not ”a long list of unread mails that may contain even more urgent things” that are blocking me.
- Overall, ”zero inbox” gives me the feeling of control, to be on top of things. I’ve also written about this earlier.
Below I have listed the rules that I try to live by, to keep #ZeroInbox at all times.
1. Use your mobile phone
You must be able to read your working email on your mobile phone (or other device you have with you all the time). Otherwise, you can’t apply my rules. But I guess most of you already do that.
2. Don’t have any filters/macros
I don’t use any filters/macros (for example moving emails in the inbox from a certain sender to a sub-folder). Why not? Isn’t that a good was of keeping #ZeroInbox? First of all, filters/macros you can (or should) only use on emails you get from systems (or email-lists). Then you can create a rule looking at the sender and then move them to a sub-folder. That sub-folder will of course increase and hold ”X unread emails”. That to me is stressful (to have unread emails). What do I do then? When I see an email from a system in my inbox I do:
- Delete it immediately (which is 99% of the cases, it takes about 5 seconds per email to do)
- I act on it immediately (for example a ticket is completed I send off ”good job”-message to the developer that fixed it).
The down part of not keeping them in a sub-folder, is that you can’t go back and search for old items. That is slightly true, but I almost never find the need to go back, and if I have to, I can check in my deleted items folder (which I don’t empty too often, maybe twice a year).
3. Checking emails all the time
Some of you may disagree with me on this one, but I check my inbox all the time. It’s the only was to keep #ZeroInbox! If you sit in meetings all day, and fall behind (emails is piling up in your inbox) there is no way to get back to #ZeroInbox (or at least that will require a huge effort that you will feel resistance to do). What shall you do if you have meetings all day then? There is always some time before, and in between meetings, clean your inbox then. Maybe someone else is talking at the meeting and you are ”out of focus” for a while? Pick up your phone and clean your inbox.
4. Emails I have to act on (i.e the ones sent directly to me)
Do I delete all my emails? Of course not. I use a system with sub-folders to keep track of them. The folders are ”in the cloud” so I can reach them all the time from all my devices. Some of you may keep an email in the inbox as a ”signal” that this is something to act upon, or keep it marked as unread. I don’t do that. All the things I have to do I keep track of using on online kanban board, right now in Favro.
5. Deleting emails (i.e. CC or from systems/emails-lists)
This may sound frightening to you, but I delete most of the emails I get. This means probably over 90%. Some rules fot that:
- If I don’t feel the urge, or have the time, to do something about the email I received now, I will probably not have it later either (if I keep it).
- If I’m on CC on the email, I got it ”for your information”, I’m not driving the discussion and therefore I can delete it (to be honest I keep CC-emails in some cases, moving them directly to a sub-folder after reading them).
- System emails / email lists – Just by the subject I can decide if I should do something or delete directly (see the filter/macro rule).
There you go, my rules for achieving #ZeroInbox. Are they applicable for your situation? It should be if you receive less or the same amount of emails that I get every day. If you get more, or don’t have the possibility to continuously check emails, you probably have to think about something else. Until next time, enjoy!
All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist