For years now, our email inboxes have been updating in the background of our lives filling up with everything from chain letters from aging parents to sales pitches. Every day that passes we can see the little number in the tab ticking upwards and upwards until all of a sudden there are 35,000 emails and we couldn’t find what we need if we had all the time in the world. And thus the concept of “inbox zero” was born.

Contrary to the name, inbox zero, a concept coined by Merlin Mann in 2007, means less about keeping that little number at zero, and more about heading into your inbox with the intention and a plan to limit the time your attention is stuck there.


As easily as email has connected us all, it also could be responsible for those anxious feelings in the back of your mind. But take a moment and consider your email use: Are you stressed out about the amount of emails or are you stressed out about your need to check your inbox constantly?

Now for some people email is actually urgent and it cannot wait. By all means, do what you’ve gotta do…but let’s go ahead and presume that’s not the case. If you don’t check your email, nothing horrible will happen, and yet there you are, checking your email every ten or so minutes because you feel like the second you turn away something important will go down.

Personally, I’ve worked to keep my inbox number at zero by the end of every work day since I started working. Every time I’ve screenshared on a call people are always in awe that I keep my inbox empty and I would glow in the light of their praise. “Yes, I am that person who is able to keep my email life in control. Thank you for your appreciation.” But if I’m being blunt, the reason I kept my inbox at zero was because I was frantically checking my email every 3-5 minutes or just keeping it open in a tab and deleting everything unnecessary and dropping anything else I was working on to work on tasks that came in through email. SPOILER: That’s not exactly a good way of managing things.

 

So how can we handle our inboxes in a healthy, responsible, and productive way?

 

Thomas Oppong suggests treating emails like appointments and schedule a time to check them. Mark it out as busy in your calendar and dedicate the time you need to check it. Maybe you check it once a day, treating it more like physical mail, or maybe you schedule time 5 or 6 times a day…whatever works for you!

Debbie Madden suggests unsubscribing and turning off ALL notifications. Notifications, at a psychological level, pull our attention away from whatever we’re working on and it can become impossible to finish a task when you’re constantly being pulled in different directions.

Maybe for you you need to follow Mark Wilson’s suggestions to make your email harder to access. You can hide it deep in your phone (or remove it from your phone entirely) or utilize a program to block access from email during certain times.

My suggestion? Update your email signature to include a note along the lines of, “I only check my emails during certain hours of the work day. I will respond to you as soon as I check my email again.” You can also add another way for people to contact you if it’s an emergency or instead of an email signature make it an “out of office” responder. Providing that level of communication can help the people you work with know what to expect from you and you may even inspire them to make a change themselves.

 

What do you do to keep your inbox in check? Are you a fan of Inbox Zero or do you just ignore anything that isn’t important? Let us know!