Inbox Zero: The Impossible Dream?

June 20, 2024

Nick Sonneberg’s webinar last month really got us thinking about how to work more efficiently. Email seems like the obvious place to start – Nick referenced a Carleton University study that found most people spend one third of their workday dealing with email.  

The “Inbox Zero” Nick describes is quite compelling, but is it possible? And what’s the best way to get there?  

Nick has his strategy. In Come Up for Air: How Teams Can Leverage Systems and Tools to Stop Drowning in Work, Sonnenberg suggests culling your inbox down to what is essentially a daily to-do list. He explains the R.A.D. system:  

R – Reply: If an email can be dealt with quickly, do it now and get it out of your inbox.  

A – Archive: If an email has been dealt with, or doesn’t require action on your part, archive it.  

D – Defer: If an email does require time-consuming action on your part, you have two options:  

    • Leave the email in your inbox as part of that day’s “To-Dos”  
    • Defer the email, essentially “snoozing” it, and setting a desired time/date for it to pop back into your inbox  

That’s a great strategy for dealing with emails when you’re checking your inbox. But the other piece of the puzzle is to STOP checking your inbox.  

On average, professionals check their email 15 times a day, or every 37 minutes. Some people can’t go a minute without knowing emails have arrived, and have set up notifications for an instant alert.   The problem is that folks struggle with regaining focus after interruptions, and email is decidedly an interruption.  

The solution is obvious, though it might sting a little – turn off those notifications, create a few daily calendar blocks for checking email, and keep your focus time focused.  

Another consideration – the fewer emails you send, the fewer you’ll receive. So, send fewer emails!  Email isn’t the best tool for every kind of communication anyway:   

    • Internal real-time communication should take place on Teams or Slack. You still have a “paper” trail to refer to, but avoid dozens of unnecessary emails.  
    • Once an email becomes an action item, it can be transferred to a project management tool (Asana, Trello, Monday.com). Then it’s out of your inbox and subsequent communication can take place in the tool.  

Finally, consider your subscriptions or newsletters. Do you read them? Or are they just more inbox clutter? Unroll.me is a free tool that helps you easily unsubscribe from unwanted emails.    

Everyone struggles with e-mail management, but giving even one of these strategies a whirl could improve productivity and streamline communications. We can’t promise Inbox Zero, but even Inbox Less would be a start.  

Do you have any email tips or tricks? We’d love to hear them and share with our readers!

Internal real-time communication should take place on Teams or Slack. You still have a “paper” trail to refer to, but avoid dozens of unnecessary emails.  

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