Bringing your email inbox down to zero is a dream for so many people. To this day and age we receive so many emails. Some solicited, some spam. Whilst some may be questions people need you to answer, others might be information that you are looking for or need.
Regardless of whether it's a meeting invite, question or something bigger, like a large project you are working on that needs your response, it is all very overwhelming. What happens to most people is that you end up with an inbox overflowing with unread emails and you don't know what to do with it.
So how do you get to Inbox Zero? That is no unread emails at the end of each day, every day!
Before you start to take on this mission, it's also important to manage your emails effectively because if you are reacting to most of your emails then you're using your time inefficiently.
A great tip to achieving Inbox Zero is to set some time aside each day to check your emails. Now it could be a specific time of the day or it could be at a specific milestone of the day. This could mean you check your emails after completing a project, or maybe you add some time between meetings. You could also put set times in your calendar to do this task - for example you check your emails at 9:00AM and at 3:00PM. Add that to your default diary so that you are committed to only checking emails at that time.
My word of advice is turn off the notifications so you just focus on doing what's got to be done, and you check your emails when you want to so you're in control rather than being reactive.
Now once you've opened your inbox, there is a four-stage system or a four different outcome system that you can use to manage your emails, and they all start with D - the 4 D's!
The first D is DELETE. Now quite often, you'll get emails that have nothing to do with you. They could be spam. They could be something that you don't really need to be seeing. It could be a distraction. Just delete them. DELETE! Hit the delete key and get rid of them, and that way, you don't have to worry about them clogging up your inbox.
The second D is for DO IT. If it's something that can be done in under three minutes, my rule is just get it done. It could be replying with an answer or attaching a document, presentation, video etc. to an email. It could be forwarding it on to somebody else. It could be an email introduction. But just get it done. Get it out of the way if it's something that can be done really, really quickly.
Now if it's something that you can get somebody else to do, this is where the third D comes in. You can DELEGATE it. Delegate a task to somebody else, which means that you press the forward button straightaway. You type a little bit of instruction, and you send it to someone in your team who can take care of the task for you. This could be a team member in your office or a virtual assistant.
There are going be some emails, though, that will take up more of your time, that you cannot delegate as it needs your attention and that you cannot delete because they are important. These are the ones that typically hang around in people's in boxes because they need to be looked at later … and so this is the fourth D, which is DEFER it.
Now if it is something that needs to be done later, get it out of your inbox and get it into some sort of project management tool. I use an app called Wunderlist. Anything that needs a little bit more time allotted to it goes into Wunderlist, or if it's more complex than that, I use Trello, which is a free project management tool. This way the project is out of my inbox and added to my management apps and I can look at it and complete it when I am working on that project. It's now out of my inbox and I can allot time to it at a later stage.
If it's going to take you longer than three minutes, you should set some time aside to work on this task. Because in reality, something like this is part of a bigger project or campaign and it needs to be moved out of your inbox and added to the project or campaign in your management app. This way, your in box will always stay at zero.
First of all, make sure that you're being proactive and not reactive, so you're checking your emails at particular times of the day or particular milestones, and you use the four D system to keep your in box at zero. Either do it, delete it, delegate it, or defer it.
About the Author
Ben Fewtrell is a sought-after Business Coach, Keynote Speaker and trainer who has featured in Virgin’s Inflight Magazine and Entertainment Portal, SKY Business and “Secrets of Top Business Builders Exposed”. He is also the host of the popular Business Brain Food Podcast where he interviews leading experts on anything and everything business.