CXO

11 ways to hit inbox zero

Keeping your email inbox completely empty can help decrease distractions and increase productivity.

It's common knowledge that professionals tend to be on the lookout for ways to increase efficiency and productivity, whether that's through a company-wide effort or in a personal space like their email inbox. It's also common knowledge that professionals receive a lot of email.

Enter inbox zero. Developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann, inbox zero is a way to manage email by keeping the primary inbox empty. Instead of having several emails waiting in the inbox, the concept encourages professionals to either act on or organize emails into subfolders.

"Aiming for inbox zero makes life far less stressful, and once it's achieved it's easy to maintain," IT consultant and self-proclaimed inbox zero devotee Ben Taylor said.

Here are 11 ways business professionals achieve and maintain inbox zero.

SEE: Internet and Email usage policy (Tech Pro Research)

1. Get an early start

Christoph Seitz, CEO of CFR Rinkens, says he begins each day with about 30 minutes of going through emails. The early start, along with working on emails periodically throughout the day, helps reduce inbox anxiety and push business forward, Seitz said.

2. Try out some plug-ins

A variety of tools and plug-ins exist to help better manage emails. Seitz recommends Boomerang, which lets people set times for emails to reappear in their inbox. The tool essentially allows a user to delete an email until they truly need it, and can help schedule necessary follow-ups.

3. Utilize filters

Set up filters to automatically send emails with certain words in the subject or from specific senders into folders. This could also act as a catch-all spot for newsletters or social media notifications that you don't need to get to immediately.

"The most important thing you can do to avoid inbox clutter is to prevent messages that don't require your action or immediate attention from reaching your inbox in the first place," Chris Brantner, Certified Sleep Science Coach at SleepZoo.com, said. "Your inbox should only hold important emails. Think of it as a sacred space."

4. Only leave emails you need to deal with in your main inbox

"You don't strew every single piece of business paperwork across your desk, so you shouldn't do the same with your email client," Taylor said. "Emails that don't require action, or have already been dealt with, should be dragged immediately to their subfolders."

5. Check email on your mobile device

A key part of achieving inbox zero is deleting emails, and a person can delete a lot of their emails after a quick glance or reply. Use brief periods of downtime, like waiting in a line, to get rid of emails, Taylor suggested.

6. Set up keyboard shortcuts

David Emerson, Deputy CISO at Cyxtera Technologies, uses custom keyboard shortcuts to quickly move emails from the inbox to popular subfolders. Shortcut setup depends on what computer software you use—here's how to set them up on OS X El Capitan.

7. Have a tab or folder for everything

The goal of inbox zero is to have your primary inbox empty, but additional tabs or folders are fair game. Most people who subscribe to inbox zero use these to organize different kinds of emails, ranging from action categories to a holding spot for shipping notifications. Think of what folders you need the most, and create them.

8. Answer your emails right away

"I don't just skim through my box for fires that I need to put out," Sylvie Stacy, a physician fulfillment expert, said. "I read each email deliberately and then stop and think, 'Can I take whatever action is needed right here and now, in the amount of time I have available?' If the answer is yes, then I do it. Otherwise, I make a plan to address it later, which might involve putting an item on my to do list."

9. Rely on the archive button

Archive emails and trust that you'll be able to find an email later via the search bar, several professionals said.

"I've learned to trust the search function," entrepreneurship writer Fiona Adler said. "Years ago, searching didn't work well and some of us came up with elaborate filing systems for our email. With today's technology, there's no need to do this."

10. Don't use the inbox as a to-do list

Treating your inbox as a to-do list nearly guarantees emails will always be there. Instead, read the email and figure out the best course of action. If there is an appointment to be made or task to be completed, create the appointment or task in a separate area.

11. Learn to be OK with deleting.

"It's amazing how many people equate deleting emails with some sort of mass personal affront - and instead take the time to meticulously file away those old meeting briefs, dial in reminders, and pictures of cats," Rob Mead, head of marketing at Gnatta, said. "If you're never going to re-read an email don't store it in your inbox, bin it now."

Also see

Image: iStockphone/grinvalds

About Olivia Krauth

Olivia Krauth is an Education Reporter at Insider Louisville.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox