Achieving Inbox Zero

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Here’s a controversial thought! Is email still relevant today?

It’s been with us for almost 40 years, and whilst the technology has improved, the essence remains the same - and we seem to receive more of them than ever.

So, if you ever feel like you’re being bogged down in email, then worry no more, and keep listening as I help you deal with your inbox.

We all know that the email of the species is more deadlier than the mail!!

Electrical transmission of messages is nothing new. They’ve been happening since the 19th century when there was the telegraph.

1933 saw the introduction of the teleprinter.

Then, in 1971, the very first email, as we know it, was used as a way to transmit messages directly from one computer to another on the ARPANET. The ARPANET was created in the United States to make it easier for people in the military to access computers and to have a more effective communication method.

Over the years, there have been many different standards for the transmission of email, but the basis has been the same.

The @ symbol was created as a way to separate the names of the user and their domain.

Put simply, you use a computer programme to write a message, and via the magic of the internet, and various protocols (the background code) the message is delivered to the recipient - assuming that the address has been entered correctly.

Everyone has to have their own, dedicated and unique, email address. It’s like your real world address. Get a digit wrong and the letter could end up in someone else’s letter box (or mailbox).

There are hundreds of email providers, the most well known of which are probably Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook and Yahoo.

OK - so that was the patronising part about what email is - like you really needed to be told. It’s so ubiquitous, and natural, that we don’t really give it much thought anymore. But we should. They seem to take up large amounts of time.

With so many different messaging and collaboration services, such as Teams and Slack, what is so special about email? Why do we still use email?

Well, we receive email for many reasons:


This is a big one. You know, those emails you signed up for when you bought something; or you signed up to get an initial discount, and now you’re forever on the list? Email is a quick way to send a message to hundreds and thousands of people simultaneously.

In some cases the email might be the same. But technology now means that each email could be tailored specifically to the recipient, based on past history; to increase the chance that it will generate a response - and more importantly, a new sale.

To update colleagues

We send emails to our colleagues. Even with the advent of services like Teams, or Slack, we still send email - maybe we like the auditability? Is that even a word?

You know what I mean. We can track an email. Sometimes we receive a notification it’s been read. We can also copy it to other people for their reference.

Some do that to cover their backsides. Proof that they did something. I don’t like that.

To send important documentation

Rather than just a message, an email can contain attachments. Photos, documents for attention.

Although with online collaboration services, such as Google Drive and Microsoft 365, it’s not really necessary.

Share documents online

To receive order confirmations

When we buy something, we will always receive an email confirmation. In fact, even in bricks and mortar stores, they now ask if you want an email receipt - which only works if they get your email address correct!

I have experience where that went wrong, and then didn’t have the receipt when I needed to return something. Now, I always ask for a physical receipt.

To share information with friends and family

Meet up information. Holiday info. It’s a neat way to share things that are too much info for a WhatsApp message

To receive eTickets for travel and events

Now we receive theatre tickets or flight vouchers by email. There’s nothing wrong with this - but I do object to being charged to print my own ticket at home.

The problem with email is that it isn’t going away anytime soon, and the more we receive, the more we feel bogged down in them.

So, what can you do to help manage the influx of these infernal messages?

Here are a few methods, which, when combined, will help you to reduce the number of emails you have in your inbox.

First - the ONE week rule.

Go to your Inbox. That’s the default place where your emails are delivered.

Select every message that’s older than 1 week, 2 weeks, one month - you choose the time period. Most email providers allow

Now DELETE them.

Don’t bother reading them, just get rid of them.

If it was really important, the sender would have probably already contacted you, or you would have already taken some action.

Bear in mind that when you delete emails, they usually go into a Trash folder, or Bin; so they’re not gone. If you feel bad about this, then you can retrieve them - usually up to 30 days. After that, they’re wiped!

Now you’ve deleted the old stuff, you can feel more liberated.

Your inbox is now, possibly, a fraction of the size it was a few moments ago.

Keeping a low number of messages in your inbox is the first step to towards managing email overload.

Step one is complete. You’ve already reduced your inbox.

Next, it’s time to create folders and make your email app work for you.

If you haven’t already set them up, create folders for emails based on the sender or the subject

Then, create a rule that will automatically place the email into the folder when it arrives

Gmail does this very well, as do the other providers. You can create rules based on the sender, the subject or a combination of the two; for example, only put emails from John Smith that contain the words ‘Invoice’ into the folder. Everything else will stay in your inbox.

When an email arrives that match the rules, it will automatically go into the dedicated folder - not your inbox.

This is good. It means your inbox remains uncluttered and you can manage your folders later.

Note: You can set up as many folders as you need

This is all good. You’ve reduced the number of emails, and you’ve set up an automatic management.

Now, you need to schedule some time to deal with them.

I’ve talked before about not being distracted from your day to day business, and if you’ve turned off your notifications, then you’ll now need to take stock of what needs to be done.

Block time in your diary to do this. Make it a routine. If there’s nothing there, then carry on.

Maybe you can schedule more than one period a day to go through them, like at 11am, 3pm and 5pm. At these times you can spend time going through any emails and acting on them.

If an email needs an urgent response, either do it straight away, or if it needs more attention, schedule time to do it later. Add it directly to your task list.

I would argue that emails are not time critical. We have instant messaging nowadays - Slack, WhatsApp, Teams etc, all services that could be treated as more urgent than an email.

Of course; you might get a message telling you that you’ve been sent an email.

It’s 5pm, and before you finish for the day, it’s time to check on your emails.

This is quite a straight-forward process. Simply, you need to make a decision.

Firstly, is it urgent? Does it require a response? if so, do it straight away.

But, if you need to consider the response, actually schedule time to do it later then add it to your task list. Some apps integrate with email providers and you can link the email directly. I do that with Spark mail and Todoist. So I can open the email from within Todoist, when it’s time take action.

Remember, the time you put aside for emails is about getting your inbox empty - not spending time responding.

Earlier on I mentioned the marketing emails you receive, as well as other unimportant (and unsolicited) messages.

If you have no intention of buying anything, or are just fed up with these messages, Unsubscribe.

You can unsubscribe quite easily from all mailing lists where you no longer need (or want) the emails

It’s easy to do, usually from a link in the footer of the email - click the ‘Unsubscribe’ link.

I do this at least twice each year - it’s very cathartic… and you’ll be surprised by how quickly your inbox reduces.

Right - let’s see where you’re up to…

1. You’ve deleted all unopened, emails that are at least a week (or more) old

2. You’ve created folders and rules; so that your emails are being handled automatically

3. You’ve added emails to your task manager for dealing with later

4. You’ve unsubscribed from mailing lists you no longer want

5. That means that everything you have left in your inbox is not required.

You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?


You now have an empty inbox. Otherwise known as Inbox Zero. It’s a great feeling to see there’s nothing left.

I can hear the gasps now! But don’t worry.

As I mentioned earlier, deleted emails go into a Trash folder; so they’re not gone. If you feel that you can’t cope with deleting them, then you can retrieve them later - usually up to 30 days. After that, they’re gone!

Managing emails is key to keeping on top of the masses amount of information that we receive; and most of it is innocuous. Surplus to requirements. Taking up valuable time.

So remember:

1. Set up folders and apply rules to automatically move emails when they arrive

2. Set aside specific time to deal with emails. This is also the time to move emails to dedicated folders, if you don’t have rules.

3. Unsubscribe from mailing lists you no longer need (or want)

4. Delete emails older than a week (or 2) without reading them - just delete them

5. If there’s anything left in your inbox? Delete them..

I have worked at this for quite a while now. It’s a process that really works for me, and frees up the rest of my time to getting everything else done. It really is Productivity 101….

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