Inbox Zero: Keeping e-mail manageable

Inbox Zero: Keeping e-mail manageable

Are you overwhelmed by the amount of e-mail you receive? Do you find that you spend a good part of your day trying to manage all of the messages in your inbox. Today’s Tech Tip is all about managing your e-mail with a technique called Inbox Zero.

There is a management technique proffered by the David Allen Co. called "GTD" or getting things done. The basic precept of this philosophy is that people need to move items from their thoughts and onto some other type of media in order to get things done. The most likely repository for all these thoughts is e-mail … and together we all think a lot! It is the de facto intake and output channel for most peoples work days. This can result in information overload, and some days, we have all had them, you just look at the inbox and cry a little.

Building on the foundations of GDT theory, Merlin Mann, author/creator of, presented at a Google Corporation “Tech Talk” a process he created for managing inbox content; the method is termed "Inbox Zero." The following are the five main verbs he uses to describe what you can do to get your inbox count down to zero.

Five verbs of what to do with e-mail

  • 1) Delete or archive. If you can get rid of the mail, get it out of your face. It takes time, every time you see it in your inbox, if it hasn't been acted on and requires no further action. Delete it or archive it! If you do not know what archiving is, call the Tech Desk or talk to your ATC and we can help you set it up.
  • 2) Delegate (even if you are delegating to yourself at a later point). Set up a calendar based reminder for yourself to replace a inbox mail item that is staying in your inbox simply to remind you. If you are delegating to someone else, set a reminder to check up on the process of the task.
  • 3) Respond. Try and focus on responses that are one or two sentences long; focus on keeping things moving … don't let your inbox be a swampy, treacherous place where action items go to die.
  • 4) Defer. If you want to come back to the issue, but do not have the time, create a "To Respond" subfolder in Outlook and move these items to it. Then when you have the clarity you need, or if you need a break from a long task, process the "To Respond" folder down to zero.
  • 5) Do. Your inbox should really only contain unread items that you have not yet acted on. Results should be achieved as you process the mail – such as: set tasks, set delegates, make reminders or maybe just delete it and move on. Don't "check" your mail … it will always be there; no need to check on it; instead, start "doing" e-mail. Stay action-based … it helps to think about your work in e-mail as "processing e-mail" rather than just responding. Whenever possible, if you are the only one who can act on the e-mail, take a break from processing your mail and go do it!

Do e-mail, but not all the time. If you can turn e-mail off from time to time and do something else, try it. Plan on processing e-mail once per hour, begin by working for 50 minutes and then start Outlook up and process to zero for 10 minutes. See if this works for your business needs, you may find you are getting more done and feeling better about it!

If you have questions about Inbox Zero or any other technology at UST, please contact the tech desk, (651) 962-6230.