I have worked with numerous people over the years who obsess over having a zero inbox. The first time I heard the term “zero inbox”, I admittedly was very intrigued. Who wouldn’t want to clean out their inbox, I thought?
The first person to tell me about zero inbox was more than happy to share his workflow with me. It seemed that every email that came in would be filed in some other folder. He categorized his emails by the action required from the email itself, which consisted of one of the following: do, defer, delegate, respond, or delete.
In essence, the messages were just being redirected, and his to do list was just as long. I found this not only misleading, but also something that could be quite dangerous when you work with a large number of clients on a daily basis.
When creating these multiple folders, it would be easy to have emails that you forget about or don’t see again until it’s too late. It also makes you a slave to your inbox by feeling the urgency to constantly clear it out, like playing a game of whack-a-mole. People use various tools and strategies for email inbox management, and what works for one person might not make sense for another.
The approach that works for me is to go through my inbox at certain parts of the day. I block out time on my calendar to respond to new messages three times a day. I typically check it first thing in the morning, after lunch and once again before the end of the business day. Working so closely with clients, I do have to monitor my inbox throughout the day, but when it comes to responding or working on an issue, I try to hold off for my reserved times on the calendar unless it’s an emergency.
However, there are a few ways that companies, teams, and individuals can handle email inbox management. This includes:
1. Use a project management tool.
I use Asana, but there are various other platforms out there, including Basecamp and Trello. These tools help you organizing your tasks, set reminders and deadlines, and take a macro or micro view of your to-do list. If you can break a large task into different components, you will trick your brain and reward it for finishing the smaller ones that make up the larger task. Another benefit is that you can create a task directly from an email with many of these programs.
2. Use a social knowledge network.
This is a great way to reduce email clutter internally for everyone. We obviously use Bloomfire, and it’s a great way to avoid long email chains copying everyone on a team or in the company with questions or knowledge to share. The social aspects with commenting and co-authoring allows people to collaborate on content in one place without causing a pile-on of reply-alls. It’s also a great way to store that knowledge so that it can be accessed again in the future.
3. Ask yourself if there’s a better medium for the message.
If you have a quick question for a colleague who’s in the same office as you, consider whether it would be better to just get up and ask your co-worker rather than sending an email. If you know the exchange will be brief but your co-worker isn’t in the same space, you could always try using a messaging app like Slack. And if you have a question and know the answer would benefit multiple people in your organization, you could post it to the above-mentioned social knowledge network so that the answer will be available to all.
4. Manage your inbox, don’t let it manage you!
As mentioned before, go ahead and check your inbox in the morning, but schedule that time each day, so you don’t get pulled in another direction. If an email turns out to be a task, block some additional time for it that day. If something is urgent, such as a client emergency, then work on it immediately and move your blocked time for email up 30 minutes while you complete the task.
These are just a few ways I’ve been able to reduce my own email anxiety. As a Client Success Manager, email is a way of life; I use it to communicate with our clients and it’s a vital part of my day. However, it’s important that I carve out time to get higher level work and planning done as well. I’d love to hear what you do for your own email inbox management, and how it’s working.