Getting to Inbox Zero

Feb 12, 2021


Tips and tricks for email management are countless and tend to be a bit polarizing, right? Get the 6 Ds and find out what Inbox Zero really means.

I went on vacation a few years ago and no one noticed! After a season of too much business travel, I started designing my work to be done from anywhere. As a function of that commitment, I created a great deal of flexibility in my business. Yet, no matter where I am, I notice the emails just keep coming. On that particular vacation, I experimented with something very simple: every morning and every evening I would cherry-pick my messages. I noticed that I could process the day’s best information and my favorite requests in a very short period of time.

Some argue Inbox Zero or deleting every message every day isn’t worth the time required, but Merlin Mann, a prolific podcaster, suggests that it’s not about counting messages, it’s about “the amount of time an employee's brain is in his inbox”. Mann recommends five standard responses I’ve renamed The 5 D’s: Delete, Delegate, Dialogue (or respond), Defer (to a to-do list), or Do (if it takes less than two minutes as David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, would also suggest).

Here are some new ways to think about email:

  1. Email Notifications: Sounds and pop-up windows serve as frequent distractions and costly interruptions. Reduce or eliminate audible and visual indicators, then schedule email management once an hour or twice a day.
  2. Checking Email: We’ve all said it, “Let me just check my email really quick.” For what are we checking? Good news? Bad news? Something easy? Email checking is not email management.
  3. Email Surfing: Ever found yourself aimlessly scrolling up and down the sea of messages? Without a strategy, our emails manage us. Address each email once and remove it from the feed.
  4. The Inbox: Our collection of important team updates and spam resistant transmissions should not be confused with a well-manicured to-do list. Email helps us manage messages; to-do lists help us manage action items.
  5. Your System: We can create an elaborate structure of filters and color-coded tags, but without discipline we’ve only added more overhead. More process isn’t the solution; mastery of a simple process is.
  6. Reduce Output: Consider the amount of email you are generating. Leverage phone calls and instant messages based on the complexity and urgency of the message. Send simple responses not books.

Though my inbox wasn’t empty following that vacation, I realized that my brain was! I was simply not encumbered by an onslaught of messages and it was a total relief! Mann says we can start fresh by putting existing messages in a, I’ll call it, find it if you really need it folder. He advises us to think in templates, for example, a simple “Thank you for the invitation, I won’t be able to attend,” is much more efficient (and professional) than, “I can’t make it because my car is in the shop, the kids are recarpeting the tree house, and my dog has a spa appointment that afternoon!” I also submit that breaks are not for email, breaks are from email-- no matter how tempting it might be. Perhaps we need a sixth D, for Discipline. Let’s get back to work—and vacation!

Sources: Inspired by Merlin Mann’s Google TechTalk: Inbox Zero (58m 41s)

by Michelle Sugerman • Leading Synergies, LLC • © All Rights Reserved

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