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10 Steps to Inbox Zero

Many of us are all too familiar with the struggle to obtain the Holy Grail — Inbox Zero. With a running to-do list that is five pages long, back-to-back meetings, and an attempt at a social life outside of the office, who has time to address the seemingly never ending flow of email that finds its way into your inbox?

Here are some tips to help you turn this daily stressor into a simple component of your everyday routine:

#1: Respond right away if it’ll take you 30 seconds or less. If an email requires a simple, quick response, it is more productive to address the email immediately than to store it away for later, read it again, and formulate a response.

#2: Check your email at set points throughout the day – and leave it at that. If your job permits, choose a few times, such as 8:00-8:30, 12:30-1:00, and 4:30-5:00 to devote to emails. Stick to this schedule every day, and book yourself in “meetings” or mark your calendar as “busy” during these times to avoid being interrupted and completely devoted to returning emails.

#3: Create organizational folders for your inbox based on when you should address the email. For example, these could be labeled “Today,” “This Week,” “This Month,” and “Keep for Reference.” This allows you to prioritize.

#4: Unsubscribe from any unnecessary promotional emails. We all fall guilty to giving away our information for a free trial or coupon and often forget to remove ourselves from the subscription list. Rather than tediously deleting this junk mail every morning, cut off those emails at the source.

#5: If you open an email but need to go back and address it later, mark it as unread. This transforms your email inbox into your “to-do” list. Rather than making a mental note to return to an email and losing it, buried under countless read emails, use this notation as a reminder to return to it.

#6: When sending email, make the subject line relevant and representative of the email’s contents. This ensures that, when you receive a response, you can quickly see what the email concerns and determine the timeliness required of your response.

#7: Send less email to get less email. Utilize other methods of communication for topics that can be addressed face-to-face or with a quick phone call.

#8: Avoid open-ended questions; be straightforward and upfront about what information you want in the response to eliminate the need for further emails. When scheduling a meeting, asking “What days and times work for you?” begs for a long chain of back-and-forth as you and the recipient struggle to line up your busy schedules. Instead, propose several times, dates, and locations that fit into your schedule, thus eliminating the need for multiple emails and only requiring the recipient to reply once. Be precise and avoid ambiguity.

#9: Do not address work emails outside of work unless necessary (notify coworkers of this practice). By letting your work email seep into your personal life, the task will seem increasingly like a dreaded chore rather than a part of your job and will encourage procrastination at work.

#10: Once you choose whatever system works for you, STICK TO IT! The worst method of inbox maintenance is to neglect emails and allow your inbox to pile up. By adopting these tips and applying them on a daily basis, you can get increasingly closer to attaining Inbox Zero.

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Article written by:

Alex Schweitzer

Marketing Intern

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