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Email is a huge source of frustration and productivity loss. It’s estimated that, in 2018, the average office worker received 121 emails per day and that number is expected to continue to grow.

To cope with the overwhelming amount of email people receive, productivity gurus have created dozens of ways to manage inboxes.

By far, the two most popular approaches are:

  1. Inbox zero - The goal of this approach is to limit the amount of mental energy you spend on email by rigorously deleting emails, responding quickly and striving to have zero unread emails in your inbox.
  2. Inbox infinity - This approach became popular as people struggled to keep up with the time commitment inbox zero requires. It involves checking important emails when you have time and letting the remainder pile up.

Both approaches have many pros and cons so, this article will help you decide which approach is right for you and how to optimize the one you choose.
Photo of a woman looking at her inbox trying to decide if she should use inbox zero or inbox infinity

Is Inbox Zero or Inbox Infinity Right for You?

There’s tons of debate regarding whether inbox or inbox infinity is the most productive approach. As a virtual assistant company, support high-powered professionals in a wide variety of industries and roles. Our experiences have taught us that neither approach is definitely best. Rather, to be successful, you need to choose the inbox management style that the best fit for your job role and personality. 

Here are some factors to help you decide which approach is right for you:

Inbox zero is ideal for you if:  Inbox infinity is ideal for you if: 
  • Your success depends on building and maintaining relationships. For example, you’re a salesperson,  recruiter, strategic partnership developer, or in a similar relationship-oriented role.
  • Having 1,200 unread emails makes you anxious.
  • You are expected to respond to all messages quickly.
  • You are only required to consistently communicate with your team and a small handful of other contacts. For example, you’re a manager, individual contributor, or are in another type of project-focused role.
  • Your company’s primary method of communication is email.

 

  • You are only required to consistently communicate with your team and a small handful of other contacts. 
  • You’re fine having 5,000+ unread emails at any given time.
  • You work for a company that utilizes slack, phone calls or another non-email method to communicate important messages.
  • In most cases, it's acceptable for you to take 24 hours or longer to respond to emails. 
  • You rarely have enough time to get through emails

 

 

Next, we’ll dive into some hacks to help you most effectively use inbox zero and inbox infinity.

 

Time-Saving Hacks to Attain Inbox Zero

The pursuit of inbox zero is often extremely time-consuming and can force people into a reactive state where they spend their days responding to emails rather focusing on strategic activities.

Use these time-saving hacks to prevent email from consuming your days:

  • Unsubscribe from all of your newsletters. This is the fastest way to reduce the clutter in your inbox. If there are content from certain sites You can use a tool such as Unroll.me to unsubscribe from all your newsletters.
  • Take time to write clear, complete emails. Proactively preventing miscommunications limits the email ping-pong involved in clarifying expectations and fixing mistakes caused by people misinterpreting your emails.
  • Encourage your team to avoid replying all unless it is critical for everyone in the email thread to see their reply. Getting your team on-board with this will eliminate tons of unnecessary group emails.
  • Delete and archive all messages that don’t require a response. The fewer emails you reply to, the easier it will be to achieve inbox zero.
  • If you can respond to an email in two minutes or less, do it immediately. This saves you the mental energy of having to review it again later.

No matter how rigorous you in getting rid of unimportant messages, if you’re receiving hundreds of emails per day, you’ll likely to spend a solid chunk of your day reading and reacting to emails. Chances are, that time would be better spent on more strategic work and personal activities.

If staying on top of all of your emails is important for your role but, doing so is consuming too much of your time, consider hiring a virtual assistant. They can sort your inbox based on urgency (or other criteria you specify) and take care of other tasks such as following up with contacts, scheduling meetings, formatting documents and other small but urgent tasks that distract you from higher-value activities.

To learn more about what it's to work with a virtual assistant, download our free guide: 

Download Your Guide

 

How to Stay Organized with Inbox Infinity

The biggest challenge professionals face with adopting inbox infinity is that it’s inherently unorganized and easy for important messages to slip through the cracks.

Use these hacks to find key info in your inbox and set expectations with people who email you.

  • Implement a sorting system. While you may not read or respond to every email, sorting every one ensures that you don’t miss critical emails. Check out our guide to learn how to create an inbox management system.
  • If you opt not to implement an inbox sorting system, respond to urgent emails immediately or set a reminder to follow-up with them. Otherwise, you risk missing deadlines and key info because messages get lost in your inbox. Your reminders can be as simple as staring emails you think are important and setting aside time to review all of your stared messages by the end of the day.
  • Let your contacts know that you will respond slowly, if at all. Give them an alternative way to reach you if something urgent comes up. Setting these expectations will prevent people from getting offended when they don’t get a quick reply from you.
  • Proactively communicate with people through other mediums. Don't let the lack of time you spend in your inbox limit your collaboration with others. By reaching out in person, via text, slack, or other means, you can have more efficient conversations while reinforcing with others how you prefer to communicate. 
  • Avoid subscribing to newsletters. Though you’ve accepted having a steadily growing inbox, you shouldn’t add to the clutter with a bunch of promotional emails. Doing this will make it easier to spot critical emails before they slip through the cracks.

Inbox infinity is an effective productivity tactic if communicating via email isn’t a critical part of your job role. However, though you’re letting your emails pile up, continue to check your inbox regularly so you don’t miss out on vital conversations.

Ultimately whether you should adopt inbox zero or inbox infinity depends on the role that responding to emails plays in your success and how comfortable you are with having thousands of unread emails.

Regardless of which method you choose, the key to using email efficiently is keeping your inbox organized. Download our free guide to learn how to create an inbox management system that saves time and prevents important messages from slipping through the cracks.

Download This Guide

 

 About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others. 

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