“Inbox Zero” is an approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty — or almost empty — at all times. This is a modified inbox zero strategy that can help you become more efficient, organized, timely, and on point with your emails or projects.
Why Use Modified Inbox Zero Strategy?
Inbox zero is a more aggressive strategy by productivity expert Merlin Mann to deal with email and tasks. You can read about the set rules in detail in the link above.
I have been using modified inbox zero strategy for nearly two decades (before it became a verified method). It works well as I get about 100 emails per day now and send about 50 emails per day. Despite this volume, I am able to email clients back timely and not miss any tasks. I also know exactly what I should be working on next. At the end of the day I usually have about three remaining tasks for the next day (some very long term).
Let’s call our modified approach Inbox Zero Task List. It does violate the basic tenant of not using your Inbox as a To Do list, but I feel that having the ability to see all your tasks in one view is better. If you start using this method, I can promise that you will be more efficient than just using your inbox as a dumping ground for everything.
What is Modified Inbox Zero Task List?
At its core, Modified Inbox Zero Task List strategy has three main points:
1) Your inbox is your to do list.
2) You leave emails in your inbox until the task is done.
3) You aggressively read/respond/delete any other emails.
If you follow this strategy, it allows you to be organized, efficient, and not miss anything. With a quick glance you can see your workload and reply to clients. You can instantly tell if you have a lot of work to do too.
What are the Detailed Key Points?
Here are the detailed key points:
Inbox To Do. Your inbox is your to do list. Again, this violates the core principle of Inbox zero, but the system just works if you can easily see all your tasks and your role is having to respond to clients / team members a lot via email.
Leave Tasks in your Inbox. Any task you need to complete needs to have an email and sits your inbox until complete. If you respond to a client and you are done with the task, then file the email away.
Aggressively Read/Respond/Delete. Your inbox ONLY includes things that you need to complete. Keep clutter out of your inbox. All other emails are filed in other folders on receipt if you have no task, responded to immediately, or they are deleted. Be vigilant on removing irrelevant emails from your inbox.
Remove Subscriptions. Spam, subscriptions, internal comments, and other crap emails are read and deleted/moved on receipt or by the end of the day. If you don’t have time to read it that day, then file it away for future reading, or delete. Most often you won’t get to reading the subscription, but you can always file into a subscriptions folder if you have time. Do not let email subscriptions stay in the inbox at all for more than a day. You can alternatively set up automatic rules to put subscriptions into specific folders for safe keeping and reading later.
Responses. Respond to clients within the hour. My actual goal is to respond in less than 15 minutes to any incoming email. Most of the time, I respond within an hour or two though. It keeps projects moving quickly. Don’t respond to someone late in the day, if they emailed you in the morning – that slows down projects massively.
Too many emails. After reviewing and responding to emails, if you have more than 20 emails waiting, then you probably have a lot of work to do. If so, you need to either ask for help, delegate work, or simply get stuff done as fast as possible.
Email yourself Tasks. If a client/director/teammate talks to you about an assignment that you need to complete, but sends no email, then simply email yourself the task. Now you have a quick record and can act on the email.
Beginning of the day. Review your emails as your first task, you can see what needs to be done that day. Delete spam/irrelevant emails. Get short emails completed first as it gets you into a work mode. Once all short tasks are done, then start on bigger projects.
End of the day. Organize your email and remove clutter. See if there are any last minute things that can be responded to, so you can start the next day fresh.
In conclusion, Inbox Zero Task List is a simple way to see all your tasks for the day, keep your daily work managed, and be able to respond to everyone quickly. I can 100% vouch for the efficiency of this process. I rarely miss an email or task. Moreover, it keeps me focused on my core tasks. Even at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, my inbox looked like the attached. This is after getting about 50 to 60 emails that day already.
Final note, you will see that I have one task from January in the box. It is my long term idea for a project. I work on that when I get the time, but it stays in my inbox as a reminder. If you are not practicing this, please talk with me this week and let’s get you onboard to the new way of using your email as your task list.
PS: Once you read this and enact the strategy, you should file this email away, heh.