Inbox Zero is what happens when you have no unread messages in your email inbox.
Wait? That's a thing?
Yep. Gmail even has a special happy blue background with a bright sun to celebrate the moment when you've reached that blissful point.
I have clients who have thousands of emails pending, and I'm continually having to help fight the fires of forgotten customers and misplaced reminders. (The classic nightmare is forgetting to renew anti-spam on a website. Add a free-for-all attack by spammers to an already over-full inbox and you might as well give up and revert to snail mail.)
I strive for Inbox Zero.
I'm not there every day, but I do see the happy sun peeking out from behind the clouds of email every few days.
Want to see it?
Are you afraid of losing things in your email archives? If so, switch to Gmail or another program that archives your completed email messages.
If it is done, mark it as completed and let the archives handle it. You'll be able to find it whenever you need it, and as a bonus you'll be able to find important active items when they aren't hidden by these mountains of work you've already handled.
If you have a bunch of emails that just need a "yes" or "no" or some bit of quick information, spend a few moments responding.
My extra father taught me most of what I know about business. He said, "Touch a thing once. Try to make it so you don't need to touch it again."
You're already looking at your email. You're already distracted.
Something you need to put on your calendar? Do it now and mark that email done.
If you need more than just a few moments to complete the task, it can stay until a later step.
Give each item a quick moment of consideration. Does this belong on a to-do list? Or is it just something that you need a few moments of peace to formulate a more thorough reply?
Gmail and many other mail programs offer you the ability to "snooze" or "schedule" an email. If this item is not something you can or will handle right now, decide when you want to see it, and schedule it for then.
I recently had a promo bit that I needed to do for a class I'm teaching. Some amazing graphics showed up in my inbox. They were perfect, but it was too soon to do the promo. I scheduled that email to reappear on the day I wanted to do the promo. When that day came, the email popped into my inbox and I quickly shared to social media. Promo done!
Set items to appear when you need them.
Do you need that recipe to use later? Print it and put it in your recipe box. Or better yet, zap it into Evernote. (Note: I'm a partner with Evernote and that's a tracking link. I love teaching folks how to use it to simplify their lives! When enough people click on my tracking links, Evernote will help me promote my classes.)
Having systems that you can trust to store your information where you can find it will eliminate piles of paper on the counter and avalanches of email in your inbox.
This may take you 15 minutes to learn to do well. It will save you hours.
In your email program, learn how to filter emails into folders.
For example, all of my NaNoWriMo emails go into a folder automatically. Purchase receipts are another good thing to filter.
Once you have the filters set up, decide how to handle that folder.
Many of my folders are things that I need to see, but don't need to save. I open the folder once a day, skip the content, and then delete the entire folder.
Learn what tools your chosen email system offers, and then take a few moments to learn to use them well.
Bankruptcy is never our first choice, but if you've got more than 3000 unread emails, you're probably in trouble.
Perform the steps above on the most recent hundred or so emails, and then archive everything.
Poof: instant happy email box.
Now, after you recover from the trauma of that moment, take a deep breath and commit to going through your email at least once a day with the goal of hitting Inbox Zero.
Yes, you will have misplaced some important things.
The good news is that everyone already expected you to have lost their email, so they'll probably email you again. Anything truly urgent will surface, and everything is archived.
People are frequently stunned by how quickly I respond to an email.
Of course I respond quickly! It is between me and my happy sunshine!
Once you've lived with Inbox Zero for a few days, you'll begin to see how much more productive and efficient you are. You'll see how much less time you're wasting staring at ALL those emails. You'll also learn that your inbox is no longer a source of fear and stress. Fear and stress lead to procrastination. Procrastination leads to an inbox full of unread messages.
When you can see all of your inbox at one glance, you'll be less likely to miss important messages.
Have you tried Inbox Zero? What has your experience been? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!