How I work – inbox zero

I subscribe to the school of (email) inbox zero. It took me a long time to get to this point, I understand you might be hesitant and think it an unrealistic ideal, for a long time, I did too.

I now find it to be a powerful tool that helps keep me focused.

The tasks I need to work on are no longer a message stored somewhere in my inbox that might really be multiple things to do mixed into that one email. The message is converted into actionable items with clear language and often with a due date (and time) in my systems.

But, how did I first get here? I took it slow and first filtered and cleaned out messages I knew were not important after a certain date and deleted them unread. I then started reviewing each new newsletter that came in and unsubscribed to many of them. Next I slowly filtered through and archived personal messages. Then I went through sender by sender and either archived items older than a certain date or skimmed through to see if they were still actionable. Once the email was dealt with it was archived. It took several months and I blocked out small chunks of time in my weekly schedule to work on it. My first goal was to get it to around 1,000 messages, then consistently keep it under that, then 500, then 100! Then it was easy to achieve the goal of zero.

In order to maintain zero, I batch my email cleaning, every Friday during my weekly review I also process through my inbox and make sure every item is taken care of. I also do this after my first pass of weekly planning on Monday mornings. I try to keep it trim throughout the week but do let it pile up. I often have 150+ emails by Thursday!

Are all of direct correspondence? No! I only filter a business group I’m part of, mailing lists are no longer shunted off to a black hole. I found I never read them. Now I go through and read and unsubscribe as needed.

But what about emails that are waiting for a reply? I’ve tried a few methods over the years. I now archive them after recording the required information into my planning system. Email search is robust and it finds the message I need without much fuss. At worse I compose a new email discussing the topic at hand.

It’s now become a habit similar to why I photograph my morning cup of coffee to also post my weekly review and inbox zero.

This week I’m calling “inbox zero” for the week a day early, with a slight twist. Early tomorrow morning I head out to Columbus, Ohio to attend the Summer Show of TNNA (The National NeedleArts Association). I have one email in my inbox, an extra copy of my boarding pass. Will I see you there?