Inbox Zero: 4 Strategies to Organize Your Email

Imagine what it would feel like to have a perfectly clean inbox?

To only ever have a handful of unanswered or unread messages at any given time?

And to feel completely “on top” of your email, every single day?

The key to achieving each of these is to employ a simple strategy known as inbox zero.

In this post, I’m going to share my best inbox zero tips to help you save time, become more productive, and finally feel organized when it comes to your inbox!

But first…

What is Inbox Zero?

Simply put, inbox zero is an email management and productivity method.

While it may seem self-explanatory, there’s actually more to this strategy than simply having no emails in your inbox.

The inbox zero methods originated with Merlin Mann, author, speaker, and blogger at 43 Folders. The “zero” doesn’t actually refer to the lack of emails; rather, it refers to the amount of time your brain is in your inbox (no emails, no wasting thinking about them…get it?).Click To Tweet

Some of the core concepts behind inbox zero include:

  • For each and every email you receive, use one of 5 actions: Delegate, Delete, Respond, Defer, or Do.
  • If you can answer an email in 2 minutes or less, do it right away.
  • Have an “action/do” folder where pending emails go, then have a set time each day for responding to them.

To hear Mann talk about Inbox Zero in more detail, feel free to check out his inbox zero Google Tech Talk here.

4 Inbox Zero Tips

Okay. So now that we know what it is, it’s time to dive into some practical strategies for achieving inbox zero on a daily basis.

1. Set up Your Inbox Zero Folders

This strategy to organize your email is regardless of which email client you use (e.g., Outlook, Gmail, Apple Mail, etc.), you’ll have the option to either create folders or tags to organize your content.

There are no hard and fast rules for how many folders/tags you should have, however, I recommend having 3 to 5 at the most.

The 3 must-have folders I recommend creating are:

Action: As mentioned above, if you can respond to an email in 2 minutes or less, do it right away. For emails that require a more detailed response, move to your action folder.

Waiting: Waiting for info from someone else before you can respond to an email? Move it to your waiting folder.

Archive: This folder will contain all the emails that have been dealt with already. Yes, everything! Mann points out that with the search functionality of email clients these days, you’ll always be able to find old emails should you need them.

2. Use the OHIO Method

Another strategy to organize your email is not the U.S. state here, but rather the concept is known as “Only Handle it Once”.

As you’re working your way through your inbox, keep this adage in mind to remind yourself to deal with each email immediately…by taking one of the 5 actions mentioned above (Delegate, Delete, Respond, Defer, Do).

As you’re working your way through your inbox, keep this adage in mind to remind yourself to deal with each email immediately…by taking one of the 5 actions mentioned in my blog post.Click To Tweet

Of course, if you move an email into your waiting folder, you’ll have to handle it more than once; but that’s okay. The idea is simply not to come back to the same email repeatedly before deciding what to do with it!

3. Decide Ahead of Time When You’ll Deal with Emails

This is key for maintaining your productivity while also achieving inbox zero on a regular basis.

As mentioned above, don’t simply leave your email open all day. Instead, have a set time each day when you’ll deal with all your emails and actually organize your email.

Some people like to do this every hour, on the hour.

Others like to check email twice per day (a la Tim Ferriss).

How often you check your email isn’t nearly as important as simply having a set time to do so…so you aren’t wasting time randomly checking your inbox throughout the day.

4. Play Fast and Loose with the Unsubscribe Button

Random emails from random businesses that you randomly subscribed to can really eat into your productivity!

A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t read any of the last 3 emails from a company, it’s time to unsubscribe.

Simply click the “unsubscribe” link and be done with them!

Looking for a more efficient way to unsubscribe from emails? Use a free service like Unroll.Me to automatically unsubscribe from a bunch of lists all at once.

Simply connect the app to your email, scroll through a list of all your subscriptions, and click “unsubscribe” next to each – it’s that simple!

Final Thoughts

I hope these 4 inbox zero strategies have inspired you to organize your email, increase your productivity and start saving time when it comes to your email.

Need more tips for increasing your productivity and improving your organization skills? Check out these two helpful posts:

Don’t Give up on Planning until You’ve Tried These 6 Organization Tips

5 Organization Tips for Overwhelmed Small Business Owners

Are you going to implement any of these inbox zero tips this week? If so, let me know in the comments below!

UPDATED on December 20, 2021

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