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Conquer your emails with the ‘zero inbox’ method

In today’s digital world, our emails seem to be more important to us than our physical addresses. Indeed, it is where we can be contacted even when we are on the go. Be it in the personal or business spheres, our emails help us to be connected. On the flip side, this can lead to a flooding of mails. Why is this problematic? Wading through a whole stack of emails and getting the work done can be an issue, and rightly so. This is why email management is so important. In this respect, going through your inbox regularly is an effective way of getting rid of irrelevant stuff and focusing on the ones that are really important. However, the inbox management process in itself can be quite tedious and time-consuming. This is where “Inbox Zero” comes in place. It is a smart move to gain control of your inbox and clean it thoroughly instead of being overwhelmed by it.

What is “Inbox Zero”?

“Inbox Zero” is essentially an email management concept that aims to remove all unnecessary emails and keep your inbox empty. Developed by a productivity expert Merlin Mann, the method does not refer to the number of messages in your inbox. With “Zero”, Mann refers to the time professionals put in managing their inboxes. He believes in finite time and attention and thus, to make them use optimally, professionals or employees must stop considering their inbox as a “to do” list. According to him, this confusion is dangerous as it can hamper a person’s productivity.

Merlin Mann in his “Inbox Zero” method suggests 5 possible actions for each message in your inbox:

  • Delete

  • Delegate

  • Respond

  • Defer

  • Do

Merlin Mann’s Tips on Email Management

  • Take action immediately for each of the emails you are opening. Keeping them open will kill both your time and productivity.

  • Make time to process all your messages in your inbox. Each day, process it several times, preferably at the top of the hour.

  • After opening an email, either delete or archive it according to their importance. Follow it each time you are checking your inbox. If needed, forward the messages that can be best answered by someone else. Even if you have a shortage of time, use it wisely and make sure to pay attention to at least some of them. The act saves time and maximises productivity.

  • If an email can be replied in under 2 minutes, do not keep it for future action. Respond to it instantly.

  • Mails that require special attention must be achieved for the future. Create a separate file and put then there. To keep track of the files you are creating, set up different files for different topics. This will enable you to find it easily when you need it.

  • Set a particular time for each day to respond to the messages kept in this folder. This will help you to keep them current.

Approaches to Reaching “Zero Inbox”

There are many efficient ways to achieve a zero inbox. To manage the emails successfully in an organisation, you can create multiple mailboxes with proper filters and labels. However, every enterprise has different management needs and so, they must think realistically and pick the method that works best for them.

Here are a few fantastic strategies that work, irrespective of your organisational structure and practices. Let’s go through them.

  • Each Email is Different

Emails are all different. Some of them might be very important to you and require more attention while others are pretty much irrelevant and unimportant. According to Pareto Principle, only 20% of emails in your inbox need 80% of your attention. This is true, which necessitates quick action on the other 80% of the messages. So, for the majority of your messages, you can take instant action.

  • Prioritize Your Time

When your inbox is flooding with emails, it is true that you cannot give equal time to each of them. In such a situation, it is quite impossible to read each email you receive. But that’s alright. To maximise your productivity, you must value your time. Thus, stop concentrating on unimportant messages and put your focus on completing the rest of them.

  • Less Is More

Stop considering your professional emails as a thesis or an essay. If a message can be replied in one or two lines, it is perfectly fine. The receiver might find a long email boring and lose interest in the middle. Just try to be professional, be clear about your thoughts and make your reply easy to read. You can even put your ideas or thoughts in bullet points. This keeps your message neat and easy to understand.

  • Forget Emotions

Every message has its own different tone. Stop feeling anxious or guilty while opening your inbox. It’s just a part of your work. So, rather than being emotional, focus on the action that needs to be taken. Once taken, move on to the next email.

  • Honesty is the Best Policy

When it comes to professionalism, it is important to be honest with yourself regarding your own concerns and priorities. Also, try to be rational and realistic in your approach. Trust your instinct while managing your inbox. You need to decide on which emails are to be kept or responded to and which are to be deleted. Knowing your priorities will help you move forward and execute tasks speedily and efficiently.


To achieve ‘Inbox Zero’, everyday mailers must handle their inbox strategically. Each time a new message pops up on your inbox, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Is it important to me and should I care?

  • What do I need to do with it?

  • What action should I take with this email?

Using this method to manage your inbox can help you to not only streamline your work but also attain success more easily.


The Productivity Blog

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