Getting to “Inbox-Zero” and staying there…

What is “Inbox-Zero”?

It’s about how to reclaim control over your email, reduce stress and increase your attention span.

“Inbox-Zero” isn’t necessarily how many messages are in your inbox, it’s how much of your own brain capacity is taken up by what might or might not be in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be.

Merlin Mann originated this concept, he wrote a book about “making the time to be scared of more interesting things”. Here’s a bunch of articles that describes how he does it: http://inboxzero.com/articles/

Personally, I’ve been able to keep to “inbox-zero” for many years. Here’s how I do it:

  1. I turned off the Outlook desktop alert and taskbar email-notifications and instead I perform periodic email “dashes” a few times a day.
  2. I flag emails for “follow-up” that require further action from me.
  3. Then I use my personalized Quicksteps buttons to file email away quickly and “mark it as read” with one click.
  4. I’ve set up and maintained an Outlook rule to move internal newsletters and circulars to a “read-it-later” folder.
  5. I’ve set up and maintained an Outlook rule to move emails where I’m cc’d to a “low-importance” folder. Once read, I use my Quicksteps again.
  6. I use the Outlook ignore button to remove myself from irrelevant email conversations (thanks to @billglover for the tip).
  7. I use the Outlook cleanup tool to remove lengthy email chains but keep the most recent email response.
  8. I categorise and colour email and calendar entries by project / initiative.
  9. reduced my infobesity by un-subscribing from external sales, spam and marketing emails to my work email address.
  10. (from @conradnajohnson) For old projects create a rule that archives everything from a group of people into a project folder and run it. This can take time when done for the first time. Run it when you go to get a coffee.
  11. (from @conradnajohnson) For other mail just archive everything from a date. If you don’t know what it is, you probably wont need it. Learn how to search better: http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/outlook-help/learn-to-narr…
  12. (from @conradnajohnson) Make sure your archives are listed in indexing (click into a search, note the new options in ribbon/menu, search tools > search options > indexing options > modify). When you get a new PC the indexing of mailfiles takes time. Always good to check it is building and that you have your archives listed
  13. Make sure everything has a folder and file emails appropriately once you’ve processed then – even if that folder is as generic as “all support message threads”.
  14. Limit your active working mailbox to set period of time or project. Then archive items when the last period or last project is complete.
  15. Configure the “Do not disturb” function on your device to silence ringtones, notifications and alerts during your working/waking hours e.g. http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5463

I agree with Merlin, you’ve got to keeping tweaking your approach to this. Don’t stand still. Keep an eye out for other people’s tips and tricks and add them if they work for you.

“You’ll never stay ahead of this stuff if you don’t recal­i­brate starting today. Give each message as much attention as it needs and not one iota more. Remember the con­tex­tu­ality of triage: if you keep trying to care for dead and doomed patients, you’ll end up losing a lot of the ones who could have actually used your help.”

Please feel free to add your tips in the comments!

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