Inbox Zero: Impossible or Achievable?

Picture this:

You walk out to your mailbox. You open it up, look through everything, decide which mail looks interesting or important, and then stick everything else back in the mailbox.

Tomorrow, you do the same thing.

And the next day.

And the day after that.

After a few days or weeks of this, it’s taking you 15-20 minutes to look through everything in your mailbox. Each day, the pile inside the mailbox grows and grows – as does the frustration of your mail carrier. Pretty soon you start overlooking bills and important mail because there’s too much other junk in your way.

But you don’t do this, do you? (Please tell me you don’t.)  You empty the mailbox, bring the whole pile of mail into the house, throw away the junk mail, put the bills in your place for bills, and the rest on the coffee table. Or maybe you put the entire stack of mail on the counter like I do and then it gets buried under school papers. Whatever you do with your mail, you probably have some sort of system.

You may have heard of Inbox Zero – a process developed by Merlin Mann regarding managing your email inbox. I’ve tried many different systems over the years, but none have really stuck, so I gave up. I do try to clean it up regularly, but still end up with 25-50 emails in my inbox all the time.

So, why is achieving (and MAINTAINING) Inbox Zero so difficult for me, and many other people?  They have no system. Your inbox is full of blogs you’d like to read, clients, customers, friends, and family to respond to, receipts, registration confirmations for that webinar you signed up for…..ugh! How are you supposed to keep it all straight?

A while back I heard April & Eric Perry of Learn Do Become on Amy Porterfield‘s podcast. Here’s a link to April & Eric’s blog about this as well as a link to listen to the podcast. While I don’t follow this system exactly, I love the mail folders they discuss, and their 2-minute rule.

Here are the pieces of their system I’m using:

I created 3 folders:

  1. @ActionNeeded
  2. @Tickler
  3. @ToRead

I already had folders for each of my clients as well as for each app I use.

Here’s my process:

  1. Open each item and decide if it needs a response or action.
  2. If it does need a reply or action:
    • If it will take less than 2 minutes,  do it now.
    • If it will take more than 2 minutes, move it to the @ActionNeeded folder and add it to my task/to-do list.
  3. If it doesn’t need a reply or action, but I may need to reference it in the near future (such as a webinar registration), move it to the @Tickler folder and make sure the appointment is on my calendar.
  4. If it doesn’t need a reply or action, but its a blog post or recorded training that I would like to read/watch later when I have more time, move it to the @ToRead folder.
  5. If I don’t need to reply or act on the email,  file it in an appropriate folder. I have folders for each of my clients as well as all the software/apps I use.  So, if I receive an email from Tsheets about a promotion they’re doing this month, I file that in my Tsheets folder in case I need to tell a client about it later.
  6. If it meets none of these criteria, then it gets deleted.  Most of what I delete are mailing list emails or notification emails I get from various apps.

I’m designating times to “process” my inbox. I also take time each day to review/clean-out the @ActionNeeded folder.  At a designated time each week, I will review my @ToRead folder and catch up on some reading.

While I’m not perfect and I’ve only been using this system for a short time, I’m happy to report I’m still at Inbox Zero.  I don’t feel quite so overwhelmed every time I open my email. Success!

Do you have an email organization system that works for you? Share your tips & tricks in the comments section.

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