We at Small Business Milwaukee first heard about Inbox Zero from Tracy Champagne, our Founder. Later, we discovered the buzzword has been around since 2006 (or thereabouts). Productivity Expert Merlin Mann coined it when describing his system of managing email and allowing for a life outside of the inbox.
Tracy has been where most people are still stuck—overwhelmed by email. “I just can’t operate with all that clutter in my inbox. It used to frazzle me out,” she says, “and I’d sit there thinking, ‘I’m never going to get through all of this.’” Now, however, she has an Inbox Zero system that is working so well for her that she’s convinced other people in the last few weeks to change their email methods, too.
According to Mann, all email can be divided into these five categories: Do, Respond, Delegate, Defer, and Delete. Consider that every email has a single place where it could potentially live forever. Your job—with whatever Inbox Zero method you use—is to determine that single place, file the email, and move on.
Tracy’s system begins with a funnel. Like many entrepreneurs, she has a number of different entities under which she does business. Each of those enterprises has a separate email account, but all emails from each account are forwarded to one central Google account.
As she reviews each email, she determines their place. If she can’t discard them immediately, she decides which folder they belong in. Every email has a folder. For instance, all emails pertaining to a particular client belong in that client’s folder and all software notifications go into their respective folders. She creates new folders as the need arises. There might be instances where only one email is in a folder.
Tracy doesn’t worry about emails getting lost among the folders. She simply uses the “Search in mail” button and types in a keyword or two. On many occasions she’s been able to quickly retrieve information from years back. Tracy says, “I can easily get a frame of reference so I can pick up where I left off.”
While Mann suggests taking 10 minutes out of every hour to process email, Tracy’s method means she does it once a day. Some people might work on their email twice a week. Considering that the average person receives approximately 100 emails per day, it makes sense to figure out what works best for you.
Even with an Inbox Zero process firmly in place, it’s unlikely that most people will ever get their inbox down to 0. That’s because it changes the moment the next email arrives. Instead, people are encouraged to bring their email down to their comfort zone. For Tracy, she’s more than happy if, by every Friday, her inbox is at 20 or 30 emails.
Yes, starting an Inbox Zero system will take effort and determination, but the benefits—a streamlined email system that offers less stress and more productive free time—are well worth the work. Tracy says that an outstretched inbox “destroys your mental space.” She’s solved her email problem and is even considering teaching a class on her process.
By the way, Inbox Zero Day is October 6, 2022. Prepare to celebrate it by taking a look at some of these articles we’ve curated for you:
Inbox Zero by TechTarget.com
The 7-Step Definitive Guide to Achieving Inbox Zero by EmailAnalytics
Everything you need to know about the Inbox Zero Method by SuperHuman.com
Take a look at this video:
Inbox Zero Tutorial (Step-by-step Instructions) by Jeff Su
Or read the book:
Inbox Zero: How to Stop Checking Email and Start Finishing It by Ian Charnas