If you haven’t heard about the craze known as Inbox Zero (0), you are absolutely missing out. At PMG, almost 90% of our communication is done through email. The asynchronous nature makes it less overwhelming, and you can deal with things as they come in without being on the phone for two hours.
Inbox 0 is a workflow process which has one rule: Keep your inbox at 0 emails every time you check your email. You might think: Wait, if I keep my email at zero all the time, aren’t I spending too much time in my email? The quick answer is: No! You will actually spend less time in email because you aren’t looking at as many emails. Inbox 0 is a workflow process that requires some getting used to, but once you switch to it, you won’t be able to switch back.
Archive All Your Old Emails
Before you can start using Inbox 0, you have to do some housekeeping. That means archiving as many emails as possible. Gmail has a nice “Archive All Emails” button that is super useful here. Go through the first page of your email (How often do people actually go to the second page of their email anyways) and respond to all the ones you need to, and then hit that Archive button.
Create rules for any email “aliases”
In Gmail, one of the best filters is the “-firstname.lastname@example.org” filter. If your direct email address or an important group is not specified in the email’s to, cc or from fields, it doesn’t need to be in your inbox. You can always create labels and folders and store them for viewing later if necessary.
This might be scary at first, but you are going to love that you did it.
Is it actionable?
There is one rule for Inbox 0: Once you read an email, you perform an action on it. With every email, you ask yourself the question: “Is it actionable?” Then you either:
1) Perform the request in the email and then respond right away.
2) If you are busy right now, tell your inbox to remind you about the email later. (More on this further down.)
3) Archive it as it isn’t important or is not actionable without another person’s interactions.
That is pretty much the whole workflow, it is that easy.
How do I postpone emails?
There are a couple of ways to postpone emails using external email applications. For iOS/Android/Mac OS X, there is an App called Mailbox, created by the brilliant folks at Dropbox. In Mailbox, sliding to the left brings up a queue menu and you can specify when you think you can get around to this email’s actions, sliding to the right will archive the email.
I find that Mailbox is a huge step up from any of the native mailbox applications, and it is updated with new features pretty consistently.
If you are an avid Google Apps/Gmail user, there is an excellent plugin called Streak that integrates with Gmail interface. It comes with a ton of features out of the box, including read receipts for your emails and scheduled emails, which allows you to send an email written today, for some time in the future.
Most of Streak’s features are useless if you aren’t in project management, so I have disabled them. Here is a list of my settings, which remove a lot of the non-Inbox 0 features.
Once you have Streak installed and configured, you will get a nice little prompt when you are reading an email to snooze the email and it will now disappear from your inbox until some specified amount of time has gone by.
If you are currently doing something else, and want to get to the email later, postponing the email to your inbox for a later time is a great way to get it off of your mind until you have time later to take care of it.
Inbox 0 is a great way to gain some productivity in the office, something we at PMG can not get enough of.