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How I Manage Email Overload with Inbox Zero

How I manage email overload with inbox zero

You may have heard of the concept of “Inbox Zero”—the idea is that instead of letting your email inbox become clogged with dozens or even hundreds of messages, your goal is to keep your inbox at (or close to) zero emails at all times.

Believe me, as a crazy-busy entrepreneur and recipient of hundreds of messages a day, I understand the challenges you may be thinking:

  • “I need to keep that email in my inbox so I remember to take action later.”
  • “I don’t have time to sort through all these unread emails right now.”
  • “I don’t have time to put in place ANOTHER system in my life/business.”

Guess what? Not only will Inbox Zero make email so much happier for you, it is actually easier than you think to implement and achieve. Everyone does it a little differently (and I do it a bit differently than the guy who developed the concept), so I’m going to share my process to manage email here.


1. Create an organizational system.

For me, maintaining as few emails as possible in my inbox at all times starts with how my email is organized. Gmail helps with that, since it automatically categorizes messages into Social and Promotional, but I have also created several folders to help me file away messages. My folders include:

  • One for each of my current clients
  • Prospecting/Networking
  • Receipts
  • Travel
  • Appointment reminders
  • Personal (and a few sub folders here, such as recipes to save)

This makes it easy to store an email in the appropriate folder, and then quickly access it when I need it.

The other great thing about folders is that if you receive newsletters or recurring emails, (such as Groupon offers or weekly sales reports), you can set up a rule to automatically file them into the correct folder, and then check it at your leisure.


2. Delete or take action immediately.

My second tip is to set aside time for checking emails throughout the day—maybe once per hour, or a few times per day—and when you do, clean out as many emails as you can. What does that mean?

  1. Delete or archive as many as possible. I get a lot of email I simply don’t read, so this is my first step (most of this helpfully ends up in my promotional folder, so I can usually delete all or most of those).
  2. If you can respond or take action in under two minutes, do that now. For example, for me this often means adding an appointment to my calendar and shooting off a confirmation email. There’s no reason not to handle these quick tasks right away. (And then delete or file away that email! Don’t keep it in your inbox.)
  3. You may not be the best person to handle a particular email request. If you have an assistant or colleague who would be better served taking action on an email, forward it to him/her—and then delete or file the email.
  4. If there’s an email that doesn’t need action, but you want to save, put it in the appropriate folder (perhaps an offer you want to check out later, or a newsletter to read when you have time). These are common culprits that clog up your inbox. If you’re the type of person that will forget to go back to your folder later, set a weekly calendar appointment to read your newsletters and other emails in the “saved for later” folder.


3. Create tasks for emails that require additional action.

After all the emails from step 2 are cleaned out (everything that can be deleted, moved or resolved quickly), that should just leave emails that require more than two minutes of your time. What I do in this situation is team up with my favorite productivity tool, ToDoist, and create tasks to remind myself of what I need to do later.

What I love about ToDoist is I can create a task in seconds, and assign a due date, so this helps me prioritize the remaining emails in my inbox. If I have many remaining emails that require attention, I may create just one ToDoist task called “Email Follow Up” and then file the emails in a folder called “Follow Up Needed.” But if there are just a few emails that require further attention, I’ll usually create an individual task for each one, so I can prioritize them as I please, and then file each email to the appropriate folder (by client, project, etc.).


How do you manage today’s onslaught of email? Are you pursuing Inbox Zero (and if so, what’s your approach?), or do you have another strategy all together? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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