Inbox Zero Goals: How to Achieve Inbox Zero and Stay There

In the digital world of little red notification bubbles, there are two types of people. There are the ones, who stare calmly at their screens littered with thousands of red, unread messages. And those, who run a tight ship — obsessively checking and ridding every app of popups in real-time.

We laugh it off. Make memes out of it. But all joking aside, falling on either side of the spectrum can seriously hold you back productivity-wise.

Fail to keep your digital communications organized and the timeliness of your responses will suffer. Not to mention the fact that, visually, an inbox full of endless unread messages doesn’t exactly leave you feeling stress-free and accomplished.

Alternatively, if you’re someone who’s been conditioned to check every single message the moment it appears, you’re doing a serious disservice to your level of efficiency in doing so. Stopping what you’re doing to check a notification diverts your focus away from the task at hand — requiring more time to zero back in on it after the fact.

Here’s how to strike a happy balance between the two extremes in achieving inbox zero and staying there.

Prioritize Incoming Messages

The beauty of email is that, unlike a phone call you pick up, you don’t have to provide immediate answers. At least, not to the bulk of messages you receive daily.

Make it a habit to associate every email you receive with a pre-determined priority label. For example, if you receive an email you don’t have to respond to, something you’ve been cc’ed on for visibility or a newsletter, archive it rather than letting it sit unopened. If you don’t feel the need to open an email in the first place, unsubscribe from future messages.

For messages that do require a response, think of them in terms of the response complexity. Does it need only a short one to two sentences you can send off in a matter of minutes? If so, do it. Otherwise, star or snooze it for dealing with later.

Be Reasonable with Your Use of Labels and Sub-labels

With the search functionality many email inboxes offer nowadays, some may argue that labels and sub-labels are unnecessary. That they create more busywork than actual benefit.

However, there are times when search won’t cut it. If you remember the finer details of an email needed months after the fact, that’s one thing. But if you only have a collection of vague key terms to work off of, labels and sub-labels can add an extra level of findability.

Keep the number of labels and sub-labels in use to a minimum, and make time to clean them out every quarter.

Set Time Aside for Your Inbox

Time blocking is a great system of approach to managing your focus throughout the workday. And while you might only use it for more specific, project-based tasks currently, consider broadening those horizons.

Try blocking out time on your calendar for 30 minutes in the morning and afternoon for checking and responding to emails. You can expand those timeframes based on what makes the most sense for your job. The general idea though is to minimize how often you’re switching focus throughout the day and make time for knocking out emails thoughtfully—rather than simply doing what you can on the fly.

Use Templates

Many inboxes offer advanced features aimed at bolstering productivity. They simply go unused because people either don’t know they’re there or don’t want to take the time to set things up.

Sometimes though, you can end up wasting more time down the road on items that could’ve been avoided with a bit of upfront time investment. There’s a benefit in looking through that long-term lens.

For example, if you often shoot off emails that essentially say the same thing, consider setting up templates. These can be useful for those working in sales or fundraising where you’re trying to cast a wide messaging net but also tailor emails quickly with inserts of personalization.

By Staples Canada

January 06, 2020