I stumbled upon the concept of Inbox Zero over eight years ago when Google released Inbox by Gmail, an email management service alternative to Gmail. The goal was to help users better manage their email and improve email productivity through features like bundles, reminders, snooze, and highlight. I liked the minimal feel of the application and how the algorithms categorized and bundled emails of similar topics together for reading. Looking back, I realize that I didn't appreciate the reminders or snooze functionalities at the time because I didn't have a productivity system to store reminders. Unfortunately, Google discontinued Inbox by Gmail in 2019, and users either returned to Gmail or found alternatives that would provide a similar way to manage emails.
Although I reverted to using traditional email applications and services, I plan on reintroducing Inbox Zero concepts to my email management process for improved productivity.
Inbox Zero is a productivity technique popularized by productivity expert Merlin Mann that involves regularly reviewing and processing the emails in your inbox to keep the number of unread/uncompleted emails at zero. The idea is to keep your inbox clean, organized, and free of distractions, which can help you focus on the most important tasks and reduce stress. It's like bringing the benefits of minimalism into emails.
There are several methods used to achieve Inbox Zero. They are:
- Sort and categorize emails: Sort emails into categories such as action items, archive, and reference.
- Use filters and labels: Use filters to automatically sort emails into different folders based on criteria and label emails to make it easier to find them later.
- Set aside specific times of the day to check and respond to emails: This will help you avoid checking your email too frequently, which can be a distraction.
- Process each email only once: When you open an email, decide what to do with it. You can reply to, archive, delete or defer the email.
- Use shortcuts and keyboard commands: Many email clients have shortcuts and keyboard commands that allow you to quickly sort, archive, and delete emails. They are helpful when clearing hundreds of emails each day.
- Unsubscribe from unnecessary emails: Unsubscribing from emails that you no longer need will reduce the number of emails in your inbox and reduce time maintaining Inbox Zero.
- Use a to-do list: Use a to-do list to keep track of action items that come out of your email.
Although there are other advantages to achieving Inbox Zero, the main ones are:
- Increased focus and productivity: It's easier to focus on the most important tasks and be more productive rather than getting distracted by unimportant emails when your inbox is clean and organized.
- Reduced clutter and stress: An overloaded inbox can be a source of stress. You can reduce that stress by regularly processing and organizing emails. And by unsubscribing from unnecessary emails, you can reduce the number of emails in your inbox, making it less cluttered and easier to manage.
- Better time management: Setting aside specific times of the day to check and respond to emails can help you manage your time more effectively.
- Better follow-up: Using a to-do list allows you to keep track of action items that come out of your email, which can help you follow up on important tasks more effectively.
- Better communication: With a clean inbox, you can more easily find important emails and respond to them promptly, which improves communication with colleagues, clients, and others.
- Better organization: By sorting emails into different categories, using filters and labels, and processing each email only once, you can better organize your emails, making it easier to find specific emails later.
While there are many advantages to achieving Inbox Zero, there are also potential disadvantages to consider:
- Time-consuming and potentially difficult to maintain: Regularly reviewing and processing emails can take up a significant amount of time, especially if you receive tons of emails daily.
- Rigid adherence to the technique: Some people may find the strict adherence to the Inbox Zero technique too rigid and unsuitable for their workflow.
- Unsuitable for certain situations: Some industries and roles require constant communication, so Inbox Zero may not be suitable.
It's important to note that while Inbox Zero can be a great productivity tool, it may not be suitable for everyone. Each person has different needs and use cases, and it's in your best interest to find a system that works best for you and your workflow.
I'm incorporating it into my productivity system because I don't want to continue cluttering my inbox with incomplete/unanswered emails. The emails should be moved to my to-do list for later, keeping my inbox clean. I'm still unsure how to strike a balance between achieving Inbox Zero and not missing out on important information, and I'll need to play around with the frequency with which I check emails.