Periodically, I’ll get questions on how I manage certain parts of my day-to-day workflow, so I’ve been trying to answer each of these questions in My Day-to-Day. Since email is one of those things with which we’re all too familiar, I figured I’d share how I aim for inbox zero.
TL;DR: I believe that inbox zero is a myth – it’s a goal that’s a slippery slope – and it’s more about tools that help you manage the influx of email than it is trying to answer every email by an arbitrary time of day.
But that’s the long version. As always, there’s more to it than that.
One of the biggest things – especially for GTD-types – is treating email like an action item. Specifically, we view it as a task that needs to be completed where inbox zero is the goal of said task.
The thing is, I’ve grown to disagree with almost all of the conventional wisdom and/or advice when it comes to trying to reach inbox zero. Simply put, it’s an impossible goal.
1. Email is Communication
Email is communication and communication is two-way so just as soon as you send out an email, you’re inviting back responses which, in turn, invites email back into your inbox.
What happens if this happens during the block of time you’ve allotted to answer all of your email? You’re stuck on the slippery slope of trying to reach inbox zero.
2. Email Strategies May Work
This is not to say that strategies for minimizing email doesn’t work. For example, some say not to ask questions (this is a suggestion where applicable, not a rule, obviously).
Others suggest using tools like Five Sentences which is great, but do you include the signature included in these strategies? Does this count against your sentence quota? What if they respond asking about the site?
Obviously, I’m being really facetious here.
Truth be told, I’m a fan of keeping emails as concise as possible, but the point that I want to make here is that whatever strategy you end up employing helps to mitigate – not contribute to – the problem of a cluttered inbox.
Think carefully how you’re structuring your email.
3. Don’t Bother with Signatures
For the most part, I’ve stopped signing my emails. You see my name in your inbox whenever you load your email client, and unless it’s an extraordinarily important email, I usually try to keep things casual.
Now, this isn’t to say that this is a hard-and-fast rule. There are times where signatures are key. For example, of a friend of mine recently completed a Kickstarter campaign and provided a link into his inbox. I know that he receives a lot of email so sharing this in the signature made sense as it helped get the word out.
Finally, if your email address includes the domain of your website, landing page, blog, or whatever product you’re selling, then I’d argue there’s no reason to link to your social networking services because people can find you at your site and your site should be linking them to said services.
Getting To Inbox Zero
So, with that said, there are a few things that I try to do every day that help me manage my inbox so that the number of emails that come in aren’t ignored, lost, or forgotten.
Here’s my basic strategy for managing my email:
- I check and respond to all email as one of the first things in the morning
- If the email is one that I can’t respond to right now, I’ll use Mailbox App to shift it to ‘Later Today’ or ‘Tomorrow’
- If the email is one that requires no response, I archive it (I never delete email – I’m a hoarder :)).
- I write any emails to people that I need to from the previous day.
- I’ll normally repeat this process over lunch
- I check and respond to all email as one of the last things I do at the end of the work day
With the exception of weekends, my goal is to respond to emails within 24 hours of when I receive them. Using the above strategy, I’ve got a pretty good track record.
Save for three, I unsubscribe to every single newsletter. Between blogs and Twitter, I’ll normally get all of the same information that newsletters provide. I do as much as I can to avoid redundancy.
I generally don’t respond to emails after hours or on the weekends unless it’s from one of my partners, family members, or it’s something that’s absolutely critical (and critical is a term that’s relative so only you can really define it).
On my desktop, I use Gmail – I don’t use any email client because I don’t delete any email. Seriously, I’ve stuff dated back to before I was in college.
- I don’t need the data filling up my hard drive
- I think Gmail’s interface for searching is faster than any program I’ve found, which is important
- This is a personal quirk, but I like being able to have the same experience with email regardless of who’s computer I may be using
On my phone, I use Mailbox App. I know a lot of people aren’t fans. Cool. I know a lot of people are fans. Cool. It’s always about the tool that works best for you.
To that end, Mailbox App helps me prioritize my inbox while I’m away from my desk such that my emails will show up in my inbox when I need them. I rarely use the app to respond to email unless it’s critical, and use it primarily as an organizational tool.
This Won’t Work For You
As with everything else I’ve shared in this series, this may or may not work for you. But when people ask how I manage to my own things, I try to answer them here on the site.
If nothing else, I figure you guys will leave comments about the things that you do which I may end up using in my own day-to-day. Of course, maybe this will help you, too.
Either way, this is how I aim for what’s become known as inbox zero even if I don’t necessarily think it’s a particularly good goal :).