Email Zen: 5 Steps to Inbox Zero

balanceHave you ever seen an empty email inbox – other than your first day on the job, I mean? It’s a beautiful sight. It’s even more beautiful if you’re the owner of said empty inbox. You can have that. You can be that person with the empty inbox and you don’t have to do it by indiscriminately deleting everything that’s in there.

Let me admit right here: I haven’t always been a believer in Inbox Zero. I was a religious All Day Scanner. My laptop and smartphone were set to deliver an audible ping with each new message so that – no matter where I was – I was constantly reminded that I had unread email. It kept me at constant partial attention.

On the other side of the continuum are those who view email as an interruption; an evil instrument of torture to be avoided at all costs. If you’re in that camp, you’ll benefit from this system as well. It’s not 1995 anymore — we all have to get with the program and realize that some of our most important communications will come through the email inbox.

So here are the 5 steps that will help you achieve and maintain Inbox Zero.

  1. Create a schedule for processing email.  No scanning in between times. Shut off the audible notification if you’re worried about temptation.
  2. Read each email with the intent of doing something with it. Think in terms of action verbs: Do it, Delegate it, Defer it, or Dump it. Only read email messages when you’re ready to make decisions on it.
  3. Break the habit of using the inbox as a procrastination tool. That’s what we’re doing when we leave read emails in the inbox and tell ourselves we’ll decide later what needs to be done. You’ll become desensitized to seeing mail messages in there.
  4. Don’t waste time with an elaborate system of folders. Email clients have full indexing and search capabilities that make folders unnecessary. If you need to keep a copy of a message, throw it into an archive folder.
  5. Make full use of your calendar. When an email requires some time and work, save it into your calendar with a set period of time designated for its completion.

For those of you who appreciate technology and productivity tools, you might want to take a look at IQTell. Just below this paragraph there’s a screenshot of the email processing screen. What you’re looking at is an open email message with the action button menu exposed. That screen shot is really small — if you click on it, you’ll be sent to a short YouTube video that shows how IQTell helps you put action into your email processing.


Time and attention are your two most precious resources. Email will eat both of those if not controlled.

2 Replies to “Email Zen: 5 Steps to Inbox Zero”

  1. okay Susan, you have me by the short and curlies. There are three e-mails in my box that belong in the procrastination bracket. One is almost a monster. I open them, can’t decide what to do and close them down again. So I’ve decided – one doesn’t need anything and will be deleted, one needs a phone call and the third needs me to grasp the nettle and reply. Thanks for the prompt!


    1. Great work, Tilla! If it makes you feel any better, most office workers have hundreds of email messages in their inbox. Once you surpass 20 messages, it becomes a mind numbing morass – so you’re doing great at 3. But zero’s better. 🙂


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