How to Achieve the Mythical “Zero Inbox”

If you’re a business professional you can easily get 100 emails (or a few hundred more than that) come in every day. Handling those emails can sometimes take away your entire day. Now, that’s frustrating.

Today I want to talk to you about how I solved this problem using a simple technique called Zero Inbox.

To demonstrate the importance of Zero Inbox, we’ll hop on to Twitter. I’ve done a quick analysis on the #inboxzero. Look at this …

 

Zero Inbox Statistics

 

In the last week alone there’ve been 250 posts that include #inboxzero. Those posts have accumulated over a million impressions for those posts.

The important part here is that most of those posts are people who brag that they’d achieved Zero Inbox and they are excited about that.

When it comes to email, there are two kinds of people in this world; the Zero Inbox people and the Inbox 999+ people.

I’m the kind of guy that likes his Inbox fresh and clean and I’m going to tell you how I’ve been doing that for years. (Hint: It’s not brute force grunt work or throwing all day at it)

Zero Inbox  – The Problem

Zero Inbox which is simply the result of having overcome a seemingly never-ending inbox, should not be confused with the term “Inbox Zero”, which was a philosophy coined by a guy called Merlin Mann 10 years ago.

A lot of people argue that the “Inbox Zero” is just a waste of time. You can see an article about that here.

Basically, Dan Ariely argues that Inbox Zero is “structured procrastination” and it doesn’t bring you long-term happiness.

I would like to add that his argument doesn’t apply to Zero Inbox. Here’s a simple answer from the creator of the “Inbox Zero” philosophy.

It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.

Merlin Mann

 

Now, when we say: “Zero Inbox”, our goal is for our customers to be done and dusted with email QUICKLY, and no more than 1-2hrs per day at most, so they can get on with the work that really matters, the stuff that actually grows their business.

The creating, the rocking results for themselves and their customers.

But, the thing that we vouch for, Zero Inbox, is not perfect either. Here’s why …

Issues With Zero Inbox Time Management

I used to spend most of my days stuck in my inbox, in fact, I was trying to drive my whole business from my inbox. I was easily spending 4-5 hours a day most days, with the rest in meetings.

Every email seemed so important and gave me something I needed to do or remember. And when you’re getting 100 emails a day on a good day, the amount of things to try and keep track of becomes impossible.

There are 3 key problems regarding my inbox:

1. Lack Of Email Prioritisation

We get so many emails come through, and we often fail to only open the ones we know or think are most likely to be important or urgent, i.e from clients or leads.

A big problem can also be newsletters and cold emails you get on a daily basis.

Don’t get me wrong. In most cases, you subscribe to the most quality newsletters. They deepen your knowledge and help your business. But they can easily become a burden for your productivity.

A quick pro tip: Set apart time to go through these emails. I do it on Saturday mornings or Sunday arvo (afternoon for anyone not from ANZ).

That’s a great time to go out for a coffee by yourself and check out what your favorite experts have to tell you this week.

We can also feel like every single email that comes in from a client, actually needs to be answered immediately, in real-time. This is what gives you that feeling of your inbox being never-ending and taking up so much of your time.

It doesn’t have to be that way and I’m excited to tell you how to do this.

2. Treating Your Inbox As An Unfocused To-do List

We open an email and think I’m not ready to action that yet, or I’m waiting on something else before I can reply, which results in us either marking the email as unread again or moving it into a folder for us to action later.

This means the email is still taking up headspace, which leads you to the overwhelming feeling of too much to do.

The perfect example for this is Inbox by Gmail. It automatically makes every email a task for you. Even though this sounds great in theory it’s highly impractical.

Email serves primarily as a communication tool and every additional feature makes it harder to use. Remember the goal is to simplify email.

3. False Sense of Productivity

There’s something about getting through all your emails that feel so good like you’ve conquered the to-do list. But how often do you get to the end of the day and feel like you didn’t get anything done, this is likely the culprit.

A simple little email distracts you from what you were working on for a client or your marketing, which requires you to go and check something before you can reply, which requires a phone call to speak with someone.

While you wait for that callback, you email the client saying you’ll let them know soon, and then you have to remember to go back to them when the call comes in.

Now you need to go back to what you were doing and try to refocus. (Oh wait, there’s another email now, I’d better check that too).

So is Zero Inbox even possible, or is it just a dream?!

The Dream That Might Actually Become A Reality

If you could A) figure out how to reduce the time I spent in my inbox down to just 1-2 hrs you would free up nearly 50% of your time. I’d use that time to either work strategically ON my business or be with my family.

And B) Get something in place that automatically reminded me of things I needed to do, for each client and when, I would completely free up my headspace not having to remember everything. That’s the moment I decided this should become a core part of our platform Ninjodo.


Ok, Barney (from HIMYM) uses the term(That’s the dream) pretty loosely, but it still stands for business owners and professionals around the world.

Staying productive was a constant struggle because of an ever-expanding inbox. Zero Inbox is still a priority, but it doesn’t affect my productivity now.

In order to achieve that, I had to create and implement the Strategy Called Zero Inbox. The Goal: No unread emails left to be actioned whatsoever.

I’m a living proof that this is achievable, and now I’ll give you action tips and best practices to achieve the goal.

Zero Inbox Best Practices

As with all goals you can do it properly or cheat. Now you could try and cheat the process by just marking everything Read (Arrrgh right?) or maybe just be done with email altogether (not likely), but you’d still have that overwhelming feeling hanging over your head.

The only way to get rid of that feeling that a huge pile of unread emails brings is to just get it sorted.

All kidding aside, we felt current options for properly dealing with your emails still has a long way to go.

We’ve optimized Ninjodo so it’s a Zero Inbox machine! You will find out it’s easy to achieve the goal of Zero Inbox with Ninjodo. See below:

Zero Inbox Ninjdo 2.0

In my experience, the secret to productivity is to create systems that make you use as little will power as possible. If you manage to do that, you free your “RAM” and become an inspiration to the people who watch you work.

For this purpose, you can use Ninjodo’s powerful Quick Filters to sort out your emails. Notice these Filters: Unread, My contacts, Real People, Distractions. They put things into perspective and organize your inbox for maximum productivity.

Zero Inbox – Ready, Set, Go!

Now we’ll cover some best practices for achieving Zero Inbox. I’ve used it for years now and has become so much faster to do now that we’ve built it right into the Ninjodo platform.

After this, you can go and crush your inbox in under an hour.

1.First and most crucial, NEVER start the day with email checking if you want to get anything done. Save your headspace and creativity for first when nothing else has crept in and taken away some of your attention.

2.Checking email only twice per day (good times are 11am (right before people break for lunch) and 4pm (right before people start going home) )This balance makes sure people are not likely to respond immediately giving you more instant work, and that you’re also utilising each work day effectively with responses

3.Only 30-60 mins at most per time. If you apply the best practice number 2 you’ll only spend 1-2 hours/day. Handle emails quickly, effectively, and completely focus on the task. Turn off your smartphone and do this in a place where nobody will interrupt you.

4.Email prioritization:

  • Clear Out Distractions – identify all of the emails that are not actually important and delete them or move them away
  • Next, Respond to customers first
  • Then respond to remaining real people (eg new enquiries, leads etc)
  • When you have no more important email, take a look at the rest of them( then either delete them or get them out of your unread pile)

5.Don’t mark emails as Unread, to come back to them later, set tasks instead for what you have to do (eg Action XYZ, then respond to Susie 4hrs from now). You can do this easily within Ninjodo. Adding tasks is a matter of a couple clicks.

6.Future Proof your hard work:

  • Don’t opt in to newsletters if you really don’t have time to learn on the subject
  • Unsubscribe from things you haven’t read in a long time (eg Why Your Business Needs a Facebook Page)
  • Delegate anything you can to other team members or get a VA (Virtual Assistant)
  • AUTOMATE whatever you can, suggestions like automating your workflow can cut down on the need for manual email handling

It’s as simple as that. Now you can go out and handle your emails like a boss. Only one more thing …

Conclusion

Zero Inbox strategy IS an effective strategy for dealing with email because it’s simple.

Implementing it used to be about whether you had the discipline. But seriously, why do we need to have discipline these days, right?

That’s exactly why we built this strategy right into Ninjodo. Not only did we simplify email as much as possible, we’ve even completely overhauled it and optimized it for best Zero Inbox practices.

If you’re sick and tired of a never-ending inbox and feel like there is more to life, then I’d like to invite you to try this all out in Ninjodo. Click here to try it out now for free.

About the Author

Simon Ogilvie-Lee, Founder & CEO of Ninjodo.