5 Strategies to Get to Inbox Zero

This week wasn't productive for me. Every time I tried to work, I would look at my email inbox and feel overwhelmed. I would still respond to the emails I had to but I ignored the rest. This led to my inbox snowballing out of control.

My inbox was still in control on Monday, got worse on Tuesday, and was completely out of control on Wednesday. My productivity followed suit; from semi-productive on Monday to not-at-all productive on Wednesday.

Today, Thursday, has been exceptionally productive. Why? I cleaned up my inbox.

For anyone with the same problem, I implore you to dedicate the time to clean up your inbox. Spend 1-2 hours cleaning up your inbox and your productivity will skyrocket.

1. Unsubscribe

You know those newsletters that you receive that you mean to read later? You probably aren't going to read them. The ones that I know I will never read, I unsubscribe to and delete. Not only do you clean up your inbox for today, but for the future!

A cool tool to use to do this is Unroll.Me.

2. Move and Archive

Done with an email chain? Make a folder for it, move the email to the folder, and archive the email.

Need to find it again? Rely on the search bar in Gmail. Remember, Google's business is search.

Worst case, it'll be in the folder you put it in.

3. Delete, Do, Delegate, Defer

The 4D's are an important part of the "Getting Things Done" movement and can be applied to your inbox and cleaning it up. The main idea is that deferring something is the last thing you want to do.

When you're cleaning up your inbox, run the email down the 4D's:

  • Delete: Is it something that you can delete because it doesn't really add value? Delete it.
  • Do: Is it something that you can (quickly) do? Do it and strike it off the list.
  • Delegate: Is it something you can (or should) delegate to someone else? Forward it, move it into a folder, and archive it until there's an update.
  • Defer: Is it something you can't delete, do, or delegate? Then, and only then, defer it.

4. Set a Time

Set a time to look at your emails and follow the above steps. Don't look at them as they come in, otherwise, it'll affect your flow and your productivity.

Figure out what works for you. Some people spend 5 minutes every hour. Some spend 20 minutes every 4 hours. Some people only check it in the morning and before they sleep.

Personally, I do a big clean in the morning when I wake up, and during my breaks throughout the day.

5. Purge or Abandon

This is the decision I was faced countless times before. My previous email was a wasteland of interesting articles, relevant content, and important details. I wanted to purge it but I couldn't.

So I abandoned it. I knew I needed to keep the information there in case I needed to search for it. Since I didn't want to forward all of tens of thousands of emails and reorganize them into folders, I set up my email to forward to my new email. This new email also has 5 other emails forwarding to it, allowing me to answer emails for my current startup, prior startup, or my prior email.

I'm hoping this will be the last time I'll have to abandon an email address due to an inbox apocalypse.

Is managing your email inbox something you struggle with? Let me know on Twitter (@sebfung).

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