5 Steps to Achieving and Maintaining Inbox Zero

September 2, 2010 1 Comment by Tom Krieglstein

Eight months ago, a Twitter friend, @cindykane, challenged her followers to have an empty inbox. Up until that point, my inbox was consistantly 100+ deep, so the idea was intriguing. For the past eight months, I’m happy to report my inbox has continued to stay at zero. However, learning a good system took a bit. Here are my five steps for anyone to achieve and maintain inbox zero.

1) Create an ‘archive’ folder and move your entire inbox to the folder. See how easy it was to reach inbox zero :-) Joking aside, this simple action frees you from the weight of seeing 100+ emails every time. You can always revisit the ‘archive’ folder if needed, so don’t panic.

2) Remove yourself from every and all newsletters/listserves expect the most important. This will quickly reduce your inbox volume, and be honest, how many of them do you actually read? I concluded I really only read two of my twenty subscriptions. (Check out unsubscribe.com)

3) Create rules to filter messages away from your inbox to folders. I appreciate getting Facebook and Twitter email updates, but I don’t want them in my inbox, so I have a folder, with a rule attached, that moves all emails from Facebook or Twitter to it.  This way I can batch review them at once verses individually in my inbox.

4) Disable all new email notifications. Don’t let your inbox control you with a Pavlovian dog like sound. Instead, react to your inbox on your own terms. Check your inbox in batches throughout the day instead of on an ongoing basis.

5) Your inbox is not your To-Do list. This is probably the biggest single important piece of advice I can give you. Rewire your relationship with your inbox from a To-Do list to an air traffic control tower. Every piece of mail that comes in has four actions…

  • Unsubscribe / Mark As Spam
  • Act right away by replying or reading, than archiving. And I mean RIGHT AWAY.
  • Move it to a ‘Task – High’ folder which marks the email as high importance that you’ll act on within the week.
  • Move it to a ‘Task – Low’ folder which marks the email as low importance that you’ll act on in your free time…whenever that is. (read more on high vs low prioritization here)

Five easy steps. Start now and try this system for one day, then two, then a week, a month, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can actually maintain inbox zero.

TK 11/30/12 UPDATE – I’ve since been using www.followupthen.com extensively as a way to replace both my “Task – High” and “Task – Low” folders. You can learn more about how it works in my other post.

  • http://twitter.com/mikeschinkel Mike Schinkel

    I have the same issue. It might keep my inbox clean, but then the archive folder nags at me for attention…