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Conquer Your Emails: The Ultimate Inbox Zero Guide

Have you ever heard of the 'Inbox Zero' strategy? It's a method that aims to help you declutter and organize your email inbox.

The goal is to keep your inbox empty or nearly empty at all times. By systematically deleting, sorting, or clearing incoming emails, you can keep your inbox free from new, unopened messages.

Looks like a dream? Yup, it is not so difficult to implement.

In this guide, we will cover all the points of the Inbox Zero strategy:

  1. What is the Inbox Zero methodology?

  2. Why should you pursue Inbox Zero?

  3. Methods to most effectively achieve Inbox Zero

  4. Tips and tricks for faster inbox handling

  5. How can Emilio help you achieve Inbox Zero

Whenever we feel Emilio can help you achieve Inbox Zero, we will advise you on using it. You can still do it without Emilio, but it surely takes longer.

Let’s now dive in.

What is the Inbox Zero methodology?

Coined by productivity expert Merlin Mann, the Inbox Zero method is an email management strategy that aims to keep your email inbox organized and free of clutter. He first covered this in his 2007 blog article.

If you want to spend 59 minutes going over it, have a look at his Google Tech Talk:

The main idea is to handle each email only once and make a decision on what action needs to be taken.

It also emphasizes the importance of setting aside dedicated time for email management:

  • scheduling specific blocks of time throughout the day to process emails rather than constantly checking and responding to messages as they come in;

  • by batching email tasks, individuals can minimize distractions and increase productivity.

Why should you pursue Inbox Zero?

Let’s start with the data:

  1. Email Volume: Nearly 40% of respondents receive between 61 and 200 emails in a week. The average employee receives 200 emails per day.

  2. Time Spent: Managers spend up to 20 hours per week reading emails. A little more than a third of the respondents say they spend three to five hours a week managing their email.

  3. Business Critical Emails: Only 10% or less of those emails are business-critical. Of those 200 emails only 20 are important.

  4. Inadequate Management Methods: A majority (61%) believe their personal email management methods are inadequate.

  5. Information Overload: 38% of employees say they receive an “excessive” volume of communications at their organization.

  6. Collaborative Work: Time spent on email, IM, phone, and video calls has risen 50% or more over the past decade to consume 85% or more of most people’s work weeks.

These statistics clearly indicate that many professionals are overwhelmed by the volume of emails they receive and the time they spend managing them.

Now let’s go into the benefits:

  1. Reduces the clutter: you eliminate the visual clutter, which causes overwhelm;

  2. Improves productivity: with an clean inbox, you can easily identify and prioritize important emails, allowing you to focus on tasks that require your immediate attention;

  3. Enhances organization: you can easily locate important information when needed;

  4. Reduces distractions: An overflowing inbox can be a constant source of distraction, pulling your attention away from important tasks;

  5. Improved communication: by promptly responding to emails, you can enhance your communication with colleagues, clients, and other contacts.

Let’s now dive deep into how should you implement this technique.

Methods to most effectively achieve Inbox Zero

How would the author achieve Inbox Zero

The original author of Inbox Zero, Merlin Mann, provides a step-by-step guide:

  1. Unsubscribe (or Archive) Nonessential Emails: The first step is to unsubscribe from any nonessential emails. If unsubscribing isn’t an option, archive these emails to keep your inbox clean.

  2. Reply Within 24 Hours: Make it a habit to reply to emails within 24 hours. This prevents your inbox from becoming cluttered with pending responses.

  3. Use the 2-Minute Rule for Incoming Emails: If an email takes less than two minutes to respond to, do it immediately. This rule is part of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology and helps prevent small tasks from piling up.

  4. Write Better Emails: Clear and concise emails can reduce the number of unnecessary follow-up emails - see the famous 5-sentence rule. This can include using a descriptive subject line, keeping the message body brief, and clearly stating the required action.

  5. Set Up an Email Schedule and Stick to It: Designate specific times during your day to check and respond to emails. This can prevent constant interruptions and help you focus on other tasks.

Remember, the goal of Inbox Zero isn’t necessarily to have zero emails in your inbox, but rather to minimize the time and mental energy spent managing your inbox1. It’s about efficiency and control, not just about reducing numbers.

The DDDD (4D’s) method

The 4D’s method is a popular email management strategy developed by Microsoft. Here’s how it works:

  1. Delete: If an email is not directly related to your work, can be found elsewhere easily, or won’t be needed in the next six months, it should be deleted (see how in our guide). This includes emails from brands that email you often, daily notifications, and newsletter subscriptions that you no longer have an interest in.

  2. Do: If an email requires a task that is both important and can only be done by you, it’s worth doing it right away. The rule of thumb should be: If you can deal with it in less than two minutes, do it right away. Any more, and it enters your to-do list (see how in our guide).

  3. Delegate: If the email requires a task that can be done by someone else better positioned, delegate it (see how in our guide).

  4. Defer: If an email can’t be handled immediately, defer it for later (either through snoozing, creating a task, creating a meeting, or moving to a read-later app). This could be because it requires more than two minutes to handle, or because it’s not a priority at the moment.

Remember, the goal of the 4D method is to increase our email productivity by keeping the inbox organized and tidy. It’s about making quick decisions on how to handle each email as it arrives in your inbox.

Tips and tricks for faster inbox handling

Auto-advance

When you delete, archive, or mute an email, instead of taking you back to your inbox, Gmail’s Auto-Advance feature takes you directly to the next email (either older or newer) in your list.

Steps to Enable Auto-Advance Feature From Web

  1. From your inbox, go to Settings (gear icon).

  2. Click See all settings.

  3. Click the Advanced tab.

  4. Select the Enable radio button across the Auto-Advance feature.

  5. Scroll down and hit Save Changes.

Configure Auto-Advance Options

After you enable the auto-advance feature, the General tab in the Settings screen will show three options for configuring the auto-advance feature. You can select only one option to set the behavior of the auto-advance:

  • Go to the next (newer) conversation: Select this option if you want to be taken to the newer conversation in the list after you delete, archive the current email.

  • Go to the previous (older) conversation: Select this option if you want to be taken to the older conversation in the list after you delete, archive the current email.

  • Go back to the threadlist: Selecting this option will negate the effect of auto-advance and resets to the default Gmail behavior.

Enabling Auto-Advance in Gmail Mobile App

If you are using the Android version of the Gmail app, you can enable the auto-advance feature from Settings > General Settings > Auto-advance. Unlike the web version, there’s no separate option to customize auto-advance in Android. You can directly select one of the Advance to options and change the behavior of auto-advance. Unfortunately, this option is not available for the iOS version of the Gmail app.

This feature can save you a lot of time, especially if you receive hundreds of emails per day.

Keyboard shortcuts

We have dedicated a full guide to keyboard shortcuts for email in case you want to dive deeper. Below are the most relevant ones for Gmail and Outlook.

Gmail keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts in Gmail can help you navigate through your inbox and messages, format text, and complete actions like archiving and deleting. Here’s how you can enable them:

  1. Go to Gmail on your computer.

  2. In the top right, click Settings.

  3. Click “See all settings”.

  4. Scroll down to the “Keyboard shortcuts” section.

  5. Select “Keyboard shortcuts on”.

  6. At the bottom of the page, click "Save Changes".

Once you’ve enabled keyboard shortcuts, you can use them to perform various actions. For example, to compose a new email, you can press c. To reply to an email, press r. To forward an email, press f. You can see a complete list of keyboard shortcuts by pressing Shift + ? when you have Gmail open.

Outlook keyboard shortcuts

Outlook also has a variety of keyboard shortcuts that can help you navigate through your emails, calendar, contacts, and tasks more efficiently. Here’s how you can enable them:

  1. From your home screen, select “Settings.”

  2. Then select “More mail settings.”

  3. Go to “Customizing Outlook” and then select “Keyboard Shortcuts.”

  4. Select your mode of choice and then click “Save.”

Once you’ve enabled keyboard shortcuts, you can use them to perform various actions. For example, to create a new message or calendar event, you can press Ctrl+N. To open a selected message in a new window, press Shift+Enter. To delete a message or item, press Delete.

Check out this video for a more visual approach:

Forget folders

Some heavy users say you should not be using folders. Here is their argumentation:

  1. Search Functionality: Modern email clients like Gmail and Outlook have robust search functions that can find the right email among thousands in your inbox. This reduces the need for sorting emails into specific folders.

  2. Labels and Categories: Instead of using folders, you can use labels (in Gmail) and categories (in Outlook) to organize your emails. These are more versatile than folders as an email can have multiple labels but can only be in one folder.

  3. Synchronization Issues: If you use both Gmail and Outlook, you might face issues with synchronizing folders (or labels in Gmail) between the two platforms. Not using folders can help avoid these issues.

  4. Time Efficiency: Managing and sorting emails into folders can be time-consuming. By relying on search and labels, you can manage your emails more efficiently.

Split inbox

In Gmail, the split inbox feature is known as “Multiple Inboxes”. It allows you to split your main inbox into sections based on specific criteria. For example, you can have a section for starred emails, drafts, or emails from a specific sender.

To configure Multiple Inboxes in Gmail:

  1. Go to Gmail on your computer.

  2. At the top right, click Settings.

  3. Next to “Inbox type,” select Multiple inboxes.

  4. To change multiple inbox settings, click Customize.

  5. Enter the search criteria you want to add for each section.

  6. Under “Section name,” enter a name for the section.

  7. Next to “Maximum page size,” enter the number of emails you want to view in the section.

  8. Next to “Multiple Inbox position,” choose where you want to place the sections.

  9. At the bottom, click Save Changes.

Here is a tutorial video that might help:

Email templates

Here is how email templates work in both Gmail and Outlook.

Gmail Email Templates:

  1. Enable Templates: Click the Settings gear in the Gmail toolbar, select Settings, go to the Advanced tab, go to the Canned Responses section and select Enable, then select Save Changes.

  2. Create a Template: Compose your template message in Gmail. You can leave the Subject and To fields empty since they are not saved. Select More options (the three dots next to the Discard draft button), select Canned responses, then choose New canned response. Enter a descriptive name for your new template.

  3. Use a Template: Start a new message or reply, then select More options. Choose Canned responses. In the Insert section, select the desired template to immediately import that template into the message.

  4. Edit a Template: Start a new email message, go to More options > Canned Responses. In the Insert section, choose the template you want to change and import it into your email message. Make the desired changes to the template. Select More options > Canned responses, choose the template you altered, then select Save.

Here is a video tutorial on how to use email templates in Gmail:

Outlook Email Templates:

  1. Create a Template: Open Microsoft Outlook and create a new email. Customize it any way you want. Once your template email looks the way you want it to, click “File”, select “Save As”, change the “Save as type” field to “Outlook Template (*.oft)”, and then click "Save".

  2. Use a Template: Select New Items > More Items > Choose Form. In the Choose Form dialog box, in Look In, click User Templates in File System. Select the template, and then click Open. Make any additions or revisions to the recipients in the To, Cc, or Bcc boxes and any changes to the subject and message body.

Here is a video tutorial on how to use email templates in Outlook:

Email templates can save you a lot of time if you often send similar emails. They allow you to use a preformatted email layout that you’ve previously saved, so you can quickly send it out.

Archive to declutter

Heavy users tend to rely on archiving as a way to clean visually their inboxes:

  1. Declutter: Archiving helps keep your inbox tidy by moving non-essential emails out of your main inbox.

  2. Preserve: Instead of deleting emails, you can archive them for future reference.

  3. Searchable: Archived emails remain searchable, making it easy to find the information you need later.

  4. Storage Management: Archiving can help manage storage, especially in Outlook, where it can reduce the load on the server.

How to Archive Emails in Gmail:

  1. On Desktop: Select the email(s) you want to archive, then click the Archive icon (a box with a down arrow). To find archived messages, click “More” on the left, then click "All Mail".

  2. On Mobile: Swipe right or left on a message in your inbox to archive it.

For a more detailed guide, you can watch this video tutorial:

How to Archive Emails in Outlook:

  1. On Desktop: Select the email(s) you want to archive, then click the Archive button in the Delete group on the ribbon.

  2. On Mobile: Select the email you want to archive, then tap the Archive option in the menu.

For a more detailed guide, you can watch this video tutorial:

How can Emilio help you achieve Inbox Zero

Emilio is a powerful tool that can greatly assist in achieving the goal of Inbox Zero.

It works by intelligently categorizing and prioritizing your emails, ensuring that you deal with the most important ones first. Emilio’s smart algorithms can identify spam and less important emails, moving them out of your main inbox so they don’t distract you from your primary tasks.

Furthermore, Emilio can set reminders for emails that need to be addressed at a later time, ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks. By streamlining the email management process, Emilio makes it easier to maintain a clean, organized inbox, bringing you one step closer to achieving Inbox Zero.

Conclusion

Inbox Zero is more than just an empty inbox; it's a mindful approach to managing one of our most common communication tools. By combining disciplined email habits with the smart capabilities of tools like Emilio, achieving and maintaining Inbox Zero becomes not just feasible, but a sustainable part of your digital routine.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below you can find the frequently asked questions:

  1. How does Emilio ensure that important emails are not overlooked?

    • Emilio's AI algorithms prioritize emails based on your interaction patterns, ensuring important messages are always at the forefront.

  2. What if I receive a high volume of emails daily?

    • Even with a high volume, strategies like regular sorting, using AI tools like Emilio, and setting specific times for email management can keep your inbox at zero.

  3. Is it possible to maintain Inbox Zero in a collaborative work environment?

    • Yes, through clear communication protocols, effective use of email tools, and collaborative features in email assistants like Emilio, Inbox Zero is achievable in a team setting.

  4. How long does it typically take to reach Inbox Zero?

    • The time to reach Inbox Zero can vary based on the current state of your inbox and your email habits. However, with consistent effort and the use of tools like Emilio, it can be achieved relatively quickly.

  5. Can Emilio adapt to different types of email accounts and user behaviors?

    • Emilio is designed to be versatile and adaptive, learning from your specific email behaviors and preferences, making it suitable for various types of email accounts and user styles.