A huge thank you to our guest contributor, VP of Growth at SaneBox Dmitri Leonov for sharing insights into inbox zero —dive in to learn more:
Inboxes are total buzzkills when it comes to productivity, sucking up hours of precious focus time.
On average, we spend thirteen hours a week on email. The typical person checks their inbox 77 times a day, sends and receives more than 122 emails per day, and spends 28 percent of their workweek managing and organizing their inbox. Sounds pretty bleak, huh?
I’ve spent my career figuring out ways to maintain a healthy inbox and keep your sanity. Check out these 10 simple steps you can take today to achieve inbox nirvana quickly and easily. Thank me later!
1. Follow an email schedule
When you deal with email, are you a reactor or a batcher? Most of us are in the “reactor” category, where we fall into the trap of constantly going through messages that come in throughout the day. “Batchers”, on the other hand, block off time in their calendars to power through their inbox, and then ignore it the rest of the time. Reactor’s work suffers since they’re constantly interrupting their tasks to check messages, while batchers can stay in the zone and focus on work, distraction-free.
Consider breaking your “reacting” habits by scheduling time to check your emails on purpose. When you plan a specific time to take action in your inbox, you’ll be surprised at how much time you’ll gain instead of wasting the day reacting to every message. In your interim period of being a “batcher”, test different times of the day to check email that complements your schedule, workflow, and energy levels.
2. Use the Two-Minute Rule
When you’re actively checking email, try implementing the Two-Minute Rule. The rule states – if the next action you need to make on something will take you fewer than two minutes, do it right now. “Two minutes” is arbitrary, but using this principle will help hone your decision-making skills and help you get things done quickly.
Here’s how to use the rule on your inbox:
- Sort your inbox by subject.
- Read the subject lines of each email.
- Make an assumption on if the action you need to make will take two minutes or fewer.
- If it will, open up the email and deal with it right now.
- If it won’t, flag the email to deal with it later.
- If you’re taking action, do the next thing you need to, depending on the content of the email.
- Repeat until you’ve cleared all your “two minutes to done” items.
3. Respond with purpose
The idea that you need to respond to every single email you receive is dangerously distracting. Even simple answers like “Got it, I’ll get back to you later” or “OK” are guaranteed to break your focus.
Sending quick responses that have no real purpose only adds to email overload for all parties involved. Instead of replying quickly, focus on cultivating the reputation of someone who sends thoughtful, value-adding responses that move the conversation forward. Try to only reply to emails when you have the energy and time to craft a proper response.
In Unsubscribe by Jocelyn Glei, they apply Newton’s Third Law of Motion to email: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The more email you send, the more you receive. Don’t get caught in an endless email loop!
4. Archive and start over
If you’re just starting out in your Inbox Zero journey, I recommend archiving all of your emails except for the last 100.
Archiving your backlog — even if you have thousands of emails — will allow you to start your inbox from scratch without losing any important information. If you’re uncomfortable archiving that many messages, feel free to create a separate folder for them. You can label the folder “Backlog” or “Old Emails.”
5. Unsubscribe from newsletters
Chances are, only a small percentage of your incoming email is actually important. That means the rest of your email is likely cluttering your inbox with information that isn’t relevant to you.
Let’s nip this in the bud. Spend the next week unsubscribing from every list-based email you receive — unless you truly benefit from it. Every email that you don’t have to deal with again is time saved.
6. Filter out the noise
For recurring emails from which you can’t easily unsubscribe, create filters that automatically remove them from your primary inbox and place them in out-of-the-way folders. If you know emails from specific senders are never going to be relevant for you, consider creating a filter that sends them directly to your trash folder. Don’t you feel better already?
Also, when you get a reply-all thread that just won’t end, use your email app’s ignore or mute function to quietly unsubscribe from future responses. Consider giving out alternate email addresses for certain types of emails, like those associated with store reward clubs or other online accounts.
7. Say no to spam
Sometimes the act of clicking unsubscribe from a spammy sender sends a signal to the sender that your email is active, which can put you on additional lists. This causes the number of unwanted emails to just keep going up.
SaneBox feature SaneBlackHole takes spam defense to a whole new level – every time you send an email to the black hole, future ones from the same sender will also be stored here and then eventually sent to the trash. That means those emails will never end up in your inbox ever again.
8. Use templates
If you look through your inbox, you’ll probably notice a trend in messages you reply to. They can usually be classified into categories (scheduling meetings, communicating with your boss, writing to clients, etc.)
Here’s the fix — instead of starting each new email from scratch, write out a few templates you’ll use on a regular basis will save you loads of time when you’re actually responding. I personally use TextExpander to set up snippets to instantly insert while writing emails. It saves me a ton of time and guarantees accurate messaging.
9. Be brief
Brevity is your friend when it comes to email. Fight the urge to fill your emails with superfluous details and stick to a maximum of five sentences, including your greeting and sign off.
Consider our beginning point of how many emails the average worker wades through per day. Nobody has time to read an essay! The more concise your emails are, the simpler it will be for your recipient to understand what is expected of them. Plus, it lowers the chance that they’ll skip over your message entirely.
10. Use an email management software
If you’re ready to call in the big guns to maintain Inbox Zero status, consider implementing an email management software. These tools come with advanced features such as advanced filtering, spam control, reminders, Do-Not-Disturb mode, and more. They use AI technology to tell important emails from the less important ones and present them to you accordingly. That way, your inbox is already prioritized so you don’t have to do any manual organization.
There are many email management tools out there, and while I’m obviously biased to SaneBox, try a few out and see which one meets your Inbox Zero needs.
Dmitri Leonov | VP of Growth at SaneBox
Dmitri Leonov is an internet entrepreneur, leading growth efforts at SaneBox. He has over 10 years of experience in startups, corporate strategy, sales strategy, channel development, international expansion, and M&A.