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A Deep Dive Into The Inbox Zero Method

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Table Of Contents

There’s nothing more unsettling than starting your workday with a full inbox. 

You’re buried under a sea of glaring red notifications and menacing numbers of emails waiting to be read or sent. Workplace communication slips through the cracks. It’s stressful, disorganized, and most importantly, it distracts you from what really matters: getting actual work done. So if you’re getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of emails you have right now, the Inbox Zero method is about to become your new best friend. 

In this article, we’ll go over the pros and cons of this concept, and explore what makes it so controversial. Is Inbox Zero really that important? Does it live up to its hype? Is it just a fad or is it here to stay? We’ll let you decide.

What is Inbox Zero, after all?

To put it simply, Inbox Zero is a revolutionary method for organizing your inbox. Coined by productivity expert Merlin Mann, it is a concept that aims to keep your inbox empty — or very close to it — whenever possible. 

The important thing about Inbox Zero isn’t the process, but the result. It ends procrastination with emails. Improves time management. Allows you to focus without distractions. And you’ll never miss an important email due to a cluttered inbox again.

Furthermore, as it turns out, the “zero” here isn’t about keeping your inbox empty 24/7. Instead, according to Mann, it refers to “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.” Confused? Let us break down the key concepts of this practice for you. 

Keeping your email app shut for most of the day

Leaving your email app open for the entire duration of your workday is a terrible idea. 

The pull of those little envelopes is irresistible, and you will constantly be distracted from your other work. You’ll accomplish more from your email app if it’s closed by default and only opened when you need it. Additionally, you should also make sure that email notifications are turned off on both your computer and smartphone. 

Therefore, to follow the Inbox Zero method, you should keep your email shut for most of the day. Try only opening it a few times a day so you can focus on other more important tasks.

Deleting, delegating, responding, deferring, or doing

The Inbox Zero method recommends you process emails as soon as they are opened. If you are processing mail, follow Merlin Mann’s Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer, or Do principles. Here’s how that works:

  • Delete the email right away if it isn’t important;
  • Delegate the email to somebody else if it isn’t something you need to handle personally (make sure to CC yourself though);
  • Do it if it’s a task that can be done in less than two minutes (for example send a reply, file the message, make a phone call, etc.)
  • Defer it in case you need to take care of it, but it will take you longer than two minutes to read the message and complete the task at hand

Separate your email into folders

All Marie Kondo fans are gonna love this one!

Dividing your incoming emails into separate folders is a great way to actually visually sort out and declutter your inbox. I think it’s pretty obvious: Having a giant list of pending messages in your face all the time isn’t an effective method for staying organized. Do you often lose track of emails or realize that you have not taken care of something you promised to do several days ago? Creating folders to sort your emails is the way to go.

You can sort your inbox on the basis of categories such as urgency, create filters, add labels, and more. You can use the following system as an example: 

  • Requires action or response
  • Pending response
  • To read
  • Important information (includes emails that provide important information to reference but don’t need a follow-up task from you)

Don’t obsess over the outcome

Ultimately, the purpose of Inbox Zero is to help you clear your head and ensure there’s no stress about unread emails getting lost in the shuffle. It’s easy to get swept up in seeing the bottom of your mailbox at the end of every single day. As a result, people become anxious about not reaching zero, which defeats the purpose of Inbox Zero. It’s ok if you get to zero every once in a while — as long as you don’t get carried away with the idea.

Mann described this framework as the basis for his achievement of Inbox Zero. However, since he introduced the idea more than 10 years ago, others who have recognized the importance of Inbox Zero have developed other methods. 

All of these steps work toward one unified goal: turning your inbox into a place for messages that require your immediate attention and reducing unnecessary clutter. Not only will this save you time, but it’ll also allow you to work smarter — not harder. Talk about a win-win situation!

Does anybody actually use it?

Long story short: yes, they do. But just not in the right way.

It seems like Inbox Zero is every entrepreneur’s favorite buzzword these days. From CEOs to newbie employees just starting out, everyone believes having an inbox that is free of clutter can do wonders to their communication, productivity, and daily routine. However, while some people swear by these rules, others believe they’re an entirely bad idea.  

Mann introduced the first Inbox Zero approach, but there are many tools and practices available today for maintaining an empty inbox. Due to this, the essence of the Inbox Zero method often gets lost in translation. As countless people worldwide are putting their own spin on this term, achieving it means something different for everyone. 

Is it worth a try?

Here’s the thing — Inbox Zero is more than a trend. It’s here to stay.

It has become increasingly clear to people that achieving Inbox Zero can help them stay organized, reduce distractions, and keep up with email communication. So, taking any attempt to tame the wild email beast within ourselves is one worth trying, am I right?

Snigdha Gupta
Snigdha Gupta

An avid writer and aspiring marketer, Snigdha is a student at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business.

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