It’s elusive, beautiful and sought after worldwide by executives, salespeople and laymen alike. I’m talking about the zero inbox, of course.
You may have heard that only those with the most rigorous inbox management techniques can achieve (and maintain) inbox zero. But that’s not true. A well-maintained zero inbox can be yours for the low price of thoughtful app adoption and a few easy workflow adjustments.
1. Download a Read-it-Later App
Insightful blog posts, educational op-ed pieces, and even the occasional Harlem Shake video shares grace our inboxes on a weekly basis. And, while these emails are sent with the best intentions by our employees, colleagues and friends, they can create messy inbox clutter. Many of these emails contain valuable – or, at the very least, entertaining - material that we wouldn’t want to consume in the middle of our work days. That shouldn’t mean that the emails sit dormant in your inbox until you get around to digesting them.
Read-it-later apps such as Pocket and other RSS readers offer you the ability to store videos, websites and articles for later. Their simple UIs allow for easy storage of material from your web browser or from apps such as Twitter. Drop the content there, delete the emails from you inbox and consume it when you have the time. As an added bonus, many read-it-later apps don’t require an internet connection to watch or read the content after you have loaded it to the app. This is ideal for making use of down time on the road or inflight.
Contrary to the current practice of many workers (myself included), inboxes are not to-do lists disguised as email receptacles. It can be tempting to use your inbox as a task management system. After all, many to-dos come in this way, so why not?
There are lots of answers to exactly “why not.” Inboxes were not designed to be effective task management systems. Task management apps, on the other hand, were constructed with the necessary functionality to organize your tasks and make you productive. Utilize the right system for the job.
When an email comes in with an action item, transfer the “to-do” and any necessary supporting information to your task management app and delete the email. This will allow you to not only clean out your inbox, but better manage your tasks by scheduling, assigning and breaking down to-dos within your task management system. A few of my favorites are Producteev and Asana.
3. Unsubscribe from Mailing Lists
Email reminders from Linkedin to, “Congratulate Sally on her work anniversary!” or Delta Airline’s friendly “Your points can get you a trip to Cabo!” are nice to see, but don’t contribute to your productivity or towards your goal of a zero inbox. While deleting these messages takes only seconds, you may as well get yourself off the list if they don’t serve a purpose for you. Take the time to scroll through your email and unsubscribe yourself from those lists that create clutter instead of value. Too lazy to go through clicking the unsubscribe button yourself? Services like unroll.me can help do this for you.
See, not so hard, right? Biting off manageable pieces is key to whittling down your inbox. Figure out which part you think you can do right now, and do it! Have 10 minutes? Download Pocket and drop a few links from emails in there (and delete!). Have 20 minutes? Go through and unsubscribe yourself from some of the mailing lists you don’t need (and delete!). Have an hour? Sign up for a task management system and test it out with to-dos from your inbox (and delete!).
Take your time, stick to the rules and in no time, a zero inbox will be yours… and so will the bragging rights!