Four Common Mistakes Around Inbox Zero and What to do About it

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Mar 25, 2020 by DuRand Bryant

Some time ago, I wrote about Inbox Zero. To recap what this is, let’s revisit the verbiage I shared when I first blogged about the topic; emphasis mine:

“Inbox Zero is a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty — or almost empty — at all times.

Inbox Zero was developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann. According to Mann, the zero is not a reference to the number of messages in an inbox; it is “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.” Mann’s point is that time and attention are finite and when an inbox is confused with a ‘to do’ list, productivity suffers.”

Mann has since indicated that he doesn’t really like the term “Inbox Zero” that much anymore because people misconstrue the meaning. I have also since changed how I managed my inbox. Hence, this part 2 of Inbox Zero. Full disclosure: I have borrowed heavily from the Asian Efficiency team for this post, so here is the credit where credit is due.

You see, Inbox Zero is not just about getting to an empty inbox.

It’s about efficiently processing email. Why is that important? Here are a few reasons:

  • A study conducted a few years ago suggests that the average US worker spends HOURS checking email. Daily!
  • If you’re in the middle of something and allow an email to disrupt you, you could lose up to 20 minutes trying to get back on track. Three such disruptions can total an hour, and so on. You get it.
  • Many people touch the same email multiple times because they don’t decide what to do with it immediately. That consumes more time.

Here are some common mistakes I’ve made when trying to get to Inbox Zero:

  • I’ve tried to get to an empty inbox. As stated above, that’s not the goal.
  • I’ve moved messages to other folders just to get them out of my inbox.
  • I keep my email app open all day. Yes – constant inbox monitoring is not a good thing.
  • I’ve deleted email en masse, aka declared inbox bankruptcy.

Okay, enough information. Let’s talk about the practical details.

  • Stop hovering over your inbox. Close it and check back. How often you check back should be a reflection of how much you rely on email, but once an hour is a good place to start. Confession: this one is hard for me. I’ve checked my inbox multiple times DURING the writing of this post. It’s a problem, folks.
  • When you do get an email, do one of five things after you’ve read it based on Mann’s approach:
    1. Delete: Done with the message? Delete it. Or archive it. I LOVE the delete button.
    2. Delegate: Give the task to someone else, then follow up.
      • How do you follow-up? Your email application of choice will likely have the ability to flag the email, send it to a task manager with a “Waiting” flag, or remind you if no one replies after a certain amount of time.
    1. Respond: If replying just takes a minute or two, do it.
    2. Defer: Sometimes you need more information, or your response will take longer than a minute or two. If so, defer the message. Again, your email app will likely have a snooze feature that will get the message out if your inbox and automatically bring it back later.
    3. Do: Sometimes you can take immediate action in response to an email. If so, go do that action. If not, schedule time to complete the action using your calendar or your task manager of choice.
  • Avoid email folders. I know, I know…I can practically hear the groans from all the folder lovers out there. I even reference the use of folders in my first post. But here are two “gotchas” tied to folder use:
      • Trying to find a message by first locating a folder (or folders) and then perusing the list of messages is inefficient. Just use your email app’s search feature.
      • Using folders as “ticklers” for messages that need follow-up only works if you’re disciplined about reviewing them on the regular. If you’re time-starved like most people, using flags or other email app features like “Snooze” and “Remind” can save you a few clicks.
  • Need to have a conversation about something? MINIMIZE EMAIL. Try to schedule a meeting, pick up the phone, or use a collaborative tool like SharePoint and Microsoft Teams. Sending emails back and forth is time-consuming and likely frustrating for both you and the recipient.

There you have it, my busy friend. Get that inbox under control and keep Mirazon in mind for all the things you’re too busy to do.

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