Merlin Mann, the founder and writer of the blog 43 Folders, was the first person to introduce the Inbox Zero Method. According to Mann, the method isn't about seeing Inbox 0 when you open your email. Instead, it refers to "the amount of time an employee's brain is in his inbox." It's about achieving a stress-free mind that doesn't think about decluttering or answering emails in their inbox all the time.
Tips to achieve inbox zero
Take baby steps
An average human receives about a hundred emails a day. Answering all of them in one go can be tedious and frustrating. Since a human's attention span is said to last only 40 minutes before needing a 10-minute break, you might even end up sending irrelevant responses. Instead of sifting through all of your emails in one sitting, take it slower and review your inbox in smaller chunks.
The unpopular promotional emails
Aren't you sick of receiving emails that say something like, "50% flat discount on every purchase! Get your favourites for half the price now! Terms and conditions apply." These unnecessary emails can pull your focus from your work, and you might end up wasting your time and energy trying to read through them. Unsubscribing from unwanted newsletters and marketing emails can help you reduce daily email clutter.
Keep your folders simple and clean
Organizing your email makes it easier to spot important details. Reviewing your emails and classifying them based on their similarities into folders such as sent, important, spam, inbox, etc. can make finding specific emails easier.
Labels, tags, filters, and flags
Labels: These help keep your inbox organized and allow for more flexibility. You can apply several labels to one email.
Tags: Tags provides details about an email and makes it easy to locate related items that have the same tag.
Filters: This feature helps organize incoming emails and protects against spam and computer viruses.
Flags: This help keep track of responses to messages you send. You can also make sure you follow up on messages you receive. In either case, you can include a reminder alert with this feature.
Check emails at specific times each day
Checking emails every time you receive one is hectic, annoying, and distracting. Setting specific times to check your email can help you focus longer on your work instead of getting distracted by incoming emails. Do not check your mailbox more than six times a day.
Delete, do, delegate, defer
Merlin Mann also proposed the 4D principle of email management for processing emails. The goal of the 4D method is to increase email productivity by keeping your inbox organized and neat.
Delete: You likely have unimportant emails. All these unwanted emails are stored in the spam folder. Reporting spam emails that make it to your inbox before deleting them will stop repetitive spam. Also, clean up emails in your inbox periodically to keep it clutter-free.
Do: If you think you can respond to an email in under two minutes, then do it right away. If you think you can't, then the email can wait. When responding to emails, give proper closing responses to avoid unnecessary back-and-forth emails.
Delegate: You can assign emails to one or more of your team members if you think they can respond better to a particular email or it isn't an item you need to handle. You can also have a collaborative inbox your teammates can access.
Defer: Certain emails might be too important to delete, or you might need to reference them later. Other emails might be too demanding to resolve at the moment. You can set these emails aside by snoozing them and setting reminders to answer them later.
The OHIO method: Only handle it once
Our fingers might tingle to open and read an email immediately but we might not be able to reply. This leads to double work. The OHIO method suggests we open an email only when we know we can reply to it after reading it.
Avoid the email tsunami
Leave an out-of-office message whenever you go on vacation or take leave. This can help prevent emails from flooding your inbox. You can even consider using free chat apps for regular, informal chit-chat. This will help you from having too many emails in your inbox.
Template responses, mute or ignore features, and notifications
Create template responses for recurring and specific emails. Use your email app's mute or ignore function to quietly get rid of long threads you find useless. Turn off notifications—emails and otherwise—so you're not constantly distracted by unimportant things.
Do not obsess over Mann's inbox zero on a daily basis. It might not be practical, as reading and responding to emails are not the only things you do in a day. You can try this over a week, instead. The main goal is to stop email-induced stress by prioritizing your email differently.
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