I’m not one of those people who can let the “Unread” counter climb into the tens of thousands — I mark them all as read immediately, if only to make the notification go away. But I’m still left with dozens upon dozens of messages to sift through the moment I sign on. If I don’t, it’ll be out of hand by lunchtime.
One day recently, though, while watching the delightfully stupid Big Mouth spinoff, Human Resources, I inadvertently got the push I needed to handle it. In one episode of the show, the Randall Park-voiced character Pete the Logic Rock continually hawks a time-management mantra: Inbox Zero.
The term “Inbox Zero” was coined by writer/podcaster Merlin Mann and describes a mindset and technique for staying on top of your constantly overwhelming inbox with minimal time wasted.
Adhering to the concept means breaking your emails down into either actionable items or trash. Once you’ve got it down pat, you shouldn’t be spending more than a few minutes tackling your new emails — and no time stressing how you’re going to deal with it all.
If you want to make your life easier in the long term, start by going through your inbox and unsubscribing to all the places that send you junk mail. That will curb some of the influx.
Then, on to the other steps.
Scan over the newest batch of emails and identify anything deletable. My process has been to hit Select All and then deselect anything that’s a keeper. Everything else goes in the trash (or archive, up to you).
Now for the action. These things you should be able to complete within a minute or two. Here’s how I do it:
• Forward any emails that require another person’s attention; bye!
• Respond right away to anything urgent or that can be dealt with quickly (< 2 mins)
• Move things that may require a bit more attention to a designated folder, or slap a label on them. I like to use “Requires Action” because it sounds stern and scary
If you’re able, don’t leave your inbox open all day. Instead, pick when you’re going to check it and stick to those times. Maybe that’s at the top of every hour, or 3-4 times per day. Regardless, commit to setting aside a couple of minutes of hyper-productivity throughout the day.
When it comes to addressing those items in the “Action/To Do” folder, well, that’s on you. Handle things in order of priority.