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Email Management: Achieving "Inbox Zero" Process Template

This template details the process for managing email and reaching "Inbox Zero."

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Email Management: Achieving "Inbox Zero" Process Template

This template details the process for managing email and reaching "Inbox Zero."

About Inbox Zero

What is the Inbox Zero Philosophy?

Inbox zero is a concept and goal in email management, which refers to the practice of keeping the number of unread and unactioned messages in an email inbox at zero. By achieving inbox zero, individuals can reduce the stress and overwhelmed feeling associated with managing their email, and can improve their productivity and focus.

The 4 D’s for Inbox Zero Success

The 4 D's were adapted from the book, "Getting Things Done," by David Allen (if you want to do a really deep dive into philosophies of organization, we highly recommend the book). Here’s the simplified version:

The 4 D's are how you process your mail (in this case, email) every time you look at it.

How Often Should You Look at Your Email?

The ideal is 5-6 times per day. The reality is, you might want to run your life in a way that requires checking email very infrequently, but until you have trained all of your customers and coworkers and family members and everyone else around you to operate the same way, some people will be expecting a response from you sooner. So, the ideal schedule is to check your email 2-3 times through the morning and 2-3 times through the afternoon, just to make sure that you don't miss anything urgent. And at least a couple of times a day, do a thorough processing using this system.

1. Delete it.

The first D is delete. Just like you would throw away junk mail, deleting something is just deleting (or archiving) an email — removing it from your inbox with one simple click.

👉 To archive multiple files at once, just select them and click on the "Archive" button, which is the first in the list. We recommend archiving over deleting (more on that later), but if you have large file attachments or really just want to delete something, go for it.

You can also set a filter to automatically archive future emails from certain senders if you're not interested in hearing from them again.

2. Delegate it.

The second D is delegate. In your physical mail, delegating may be dropping a letter off on someone else's desk. With email, delegating is forwarding a message to put it on someone else's plate. (And ensure there is a documented process available for anything you're handing off to someone else.)

If the message is from a customer, be sure to CC the customer on your forwarded message to let them know that you are handing them off to someone more appropriate. This adds some accountability for the person that you are looping in, because the customer could check back in with you if the new person isn't being responsive. It also creates a better customer experience when they get a faster response, rather than waiting around for the second person to answer.

3. Do it.

If you can't delete something (because there is something to be done), and you can't delegate it (because it's your responsibility), then the next option is to DO it.

This is where people can get caught up spending a lot of time being reactive, and that's when your email starts to take over your day and nothing important gets done. So, a word of caution: Only DO something that is a) truly urgent or b) takes less than 2 minutes to complete.

The reason for this is that if a task takes only 1-2 minutes to complete, the time it takes you to put it on your to-do list or manage the email is equal to or greater than the time it would take you to just do the thing. Examples include resetting your password on a compromised site, updating an expired credit card, responding to a comment on social media, or replying to someone with a quick answer that you already know offhand.

4. Defer it.

The final option when processing your email is to defer it. That means you can't delete it, delegate it, or do it quickly. So, instead of getting stuck in your email doing reactive work, you should intentionally defer the task.

You can do this in one of three ways:

  1. Put it on your calendar.
  2. Put it on your task list.
  3. Snooze the email (more on this later).

In all cases, once you’ve removed the task from the email (like taking a check out of an envelope), you should archive the email (like discarding the envelope). The task remains, in a place that you will be working proactively from.

How to Achieve Inbox Zero

Getting to Inbox Zero for the First Time

If you need far more control over which messages are archived and kept in your inbox, try using to filter messages by date, sender, attachment size, and more. This can be a great way to process email if you have thousands of messages in your inbox and you are nervous about going to zero the first time.

Just remember, archiving ISN'T deleting. You will always be able to access these things, either through search or through clicking on the "All Mail" link in your left sidebar.

Keeping Your Inbox at Zero

Here are the steps for keeping your inbox at zero.

  1. Set aside dedicated time for managing your email, and avoid checking your inbox continuously throughout the day.
  2. Use the "delete" and "archive" buttons to remove any unnecessary or irrelevant messages from your inbox, and keep only the messages that require a response or action.
  3. Use the "mark as unread" and "flag" options to identify and prioritize the most important and urgent messages in your inbox.
  4. Create folders and labels to organize your messages, and move the messages into the appropriate folders as needed.
  5. Use the "snooze" and "schedule" features to defer and schedule the messages that you cannot respond to immediately, and to create a plan for tackling your email in a systematic and efficient manner.
  6. Follow up on any outstanding messages, and respond or take action as needed.
  7. Monitor your inbox regularly, and continue to apply the principles of inbox zero to keep your email manageable and organized.

By following this standard operating procedure, you can effectively achieve and maintain inbox zero, and can enjoy the benefits of a well-managed and organized email inbox. This can help to improve productivity and focus, and can support the overall success and growth of the business.

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