It’s easy to avoid action by “researching”.  Analysis paralysis is a way to keep yourself busy without actually getting anything done.  So after reading my first post on how to get to inbox zero, did you take any action?

Perhaps you researched what I use to handle non-email, and entered the black hole that is google and searched and read about productivity and systems to organize your email.  Maybe you downloaded trial versions and signed up for services, but didn’t commit to anything.

This post, I’m asking for action, because that’s really the only way you’re going to see progress.

Step 1: Create your system

I covered this in my first post, but this time I want you to take action.  Designate a home for each piece of non-email that sneaks its way into your inbox, including but not limited to:

  • Receipts, membership updates, coupons, and fliers from sites you subscribe to (plus some extra junk you don’t want)
  • Newsletters you plan on reading (but really just sit there)
  • Articles you email yourself to read later (that you never do)
  • Recipes to cook later (that you forget about)
  • Your shopping list, to do list, or any other list or reminder
  • Documents to print at work, or you created at work and need on your personal computer (we all do it)
  • Reference documents to save in case you need access to them (someday, somewhere)

As a reminder, here’s the system I use:

non-email evernote dropbox pocket todo

Step 2: Implement the System

Depending on how much email you have, you may have to devote several hours over a few days to move everything into its proper way.  There’s a few shortcuts here, but not many.  You just need to schedule the time and get to work.  Sorry for being a hard ass, but there’s really no way around it.  Keep going until you hit Inbox Zero.

I like to work with the oldest email first, because a lot of it can be trashed.  Those newsletters I saved that had an article I wanted to read?  The link doesn’t exist anymore.  The recipe I was holding onto?  No desire to cook it anymore.  That email from an acquaintance?  If I haven’t emailed them back in a year, then I’m probably never going to.

As you get closer to the new email, you can move more into your task management system.  I use ToDo, which allows me add a link in a task to an email so that I can schedule a to do to answer a specific email and move it out of my inbox if I don’t plan to respond right away.

Keep going until….

Congratulations – you’ve hit inbox zero!

Step 3: Maintain Inbox Zero

Once you’ve hit Inbox Zero, you’ll love how it feels and want to stay there.  However, email has a tendency to creep up on you – many of us receive hundreds of emails daily.  Here’s how I stay on top of it.

  • Unsubscribe immediately: Every time I check my “Receipts” email account, I take the time to unsubscribe from emails I no longer wish to receive, and update filters to ensure that newsletters and receipts go to the proper folders.  It’s easy to just delete them, but take the extra five seconds to unsubscribe.  You’ll be glad you did, because over time the number of emails you receive will dramatically decrease.
  • Stop checking your email: How many times have you read the same email ten times but done nothing about it?  This is often a symptom of checking your email too frequently, and being unfocused.  If you’re checking your email on the go from your phone, there are many emails that you can’t to respond to.  If you use email as a “break” during your work day, you won’t respond to emails that feel like too much work.  I have found that checking my email less frequently with more focus  makes me the most efficient – and able to achieve Inbox Zero regularly.  I aim to check my email twice during the day – once before lunch and once before the end of the day – and spend about a half an hour replying to all the emails that have come in.  I get so much more done.  Rather than sitting in my inbox waiting for me to “feel like it”, I respond to emails quickly and efficiently.  I file non-email to its appropriate location, and schedule tasks and follow-ups that need to happen.
  • Break the email addiction: For many of us, email is a hard habit to break.  How often do you find yourself mindlessly checking your email for no reason?  What purpose does that really serve?  It doesn’t help to have reminders of email popping up throughout your day, or watching the unread count go up reminding you of all the email you need to read.
    • Turn off the desktop alerts for your email client.
    • Have your email client check email less frequently.  I set mine to only check it when I tell it to.
    • Turn off the unread count on your desktop.
    • Do all the same for your phone – sound alerts, fetching email, and the unread badge.
  • Schedule time to go through your filters: Since a lot of my non-email no longer goes to my inbox, I need to remember to check it.  I make weekly appointments on my calendar go through:
    • Newsletters: I read through my newsletters folder and save any articles that I want to either Pocket or Evernote, depending on what I want to save them for.  I unsubscribe from any newsletters that I’m not finding useful anymore.
    • Receipts: I check on bills I need to pay, review statements, and unsubscribe from sneaky things that make it into this folder.

Mark Twain getting started quote

Tweet the quote.

Alright.  Time to get ‘er done.

Block some time on your calendar this week to get down to Inbox Zero.  Then come back and report on your progress in the comments below.  When you reach inbox zero, tweet it out, post it on my Facebook wall, and thoroughly celebrate your accomplishment!