Get Your Inbox to Zero

Brian Sun

All of this week Staffhacker contributor Brian Sun is going to tell you how to get your inbox in order, from developing healthy mindsets to reaching Inbox Zero and using the Trusted Trio system.

It’s time to get the 1,863 unread emails in your inbox under control.

There are two methods to get this done. The first is called “a drastic fresh start.” Here’s how it works:

First, focus by eliminating all distractions.

Turn off your cell phone. Go somewhere where no one will interrupt you. Put on really big headphones. And turn on a playlist that lasts at least 3 hours (preferably Jon Foreman).

Second, engage the beast.

In other words, open up your email inbox.

Third, resolve to be ruthless.

I’ve been waiting to say it but now I’ll say it. We’re going to delete everything in your email inbox with no exceptions (I said it was drastic).

There should be a clickable box that lets you select all the emails on your current page. Select all of them. And click delete. Repeat this over and over again until all 1,863 emails are gone and your inbox is at zero.

Fourth, clean up the mess.

If your supervisor says “Hey, did you get email from a couple weeks ago?” Reply with “I didn’t read it because I’m going through the process of getting my email inbox under control. With my new system, I’ll read every email you send from here on out. So, what was the email about?”

If your friend says “Hey, did you get my email from a couple weeks ago?” Reply with the same thing you said to your supervisor.

This reply is quality because you’re honest with them, you’re saying you’ll read everything they send in the future, and you’re changing your habits. People respect that so don’t worry about any negative reactions from people.

The second method is called “a slowly but surely fresh start.” Here’s how it works:

Steps one and two are the same as “a drastic fresh start.”

Third, delete almost everything.

We’re going to delete almost everything in your inbox and just keep the important stuff.

There should be a clickable box that lets you select all the emails on your current page. Select all of them. Then, uncheck the boxes next to the emails that are important for you to read. Examples include: emails that if you don’t read someone will be mad at you, emails that if you don’t read you will have to pay money, emails from a long lost friend.

With every other email, delete them and forget them. Your life will go on. And two days later you will forget about all of them, anyway.

Repeat this over again until all the non-important emails are gone and all that’s left is the important emails.

Fourth, handle all of those emails right now (at this point, you’ve probably just hit the 2-hour mark on your 3-hour playlist). In other words, make updates to your calendar, pay what you need to pay, reply to your supervisor, re-connect with your old friend. Just get it done now. You’re already in the zone.

Also, there probably won’t be very many important emails because events/conferences/random stuff will have passed already.

Fifth, treat yourself to a chai. Trenta size.

Getting your email under control inducts you into the tech-savvy campus minister hall of fame BUT we’re not there yet. There’s still one more part of the process, setting up the system of the Trusted Trio so you’ll never have to worry about your email controlling you again.

By Brian Sun | Posted: Mar 23, 2011
Category: Email/Communications | Tags: , , | Permalink | Post a comment | Trackback URL.

4 Comments

  1. March 24, 2011, 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Great post. I do think an empty inbox can correlate to a healthy mindset.

    This week (spring break on campus) I managed to get my inbox to zero from 200+ and keep it at zero for the past two days.

    Another tip that I got from David Allen that I put to use this week: don’t skip anything email, but deal with everyone and process it. That’s probably the hardest thing for me with making progress, skipping an email because I’m avoiding, not ready to fully answer, etc… forcing myself to do SOMETHING with every email.

    Reply
    • March 27, 2011, 5:08 pm | Permalink

      Agreed about how an empty inbox can correlate to a healthy mindset. It just feels plain ol’ good when my inbox is at zero.

      Thanks for the David Allen tip, too!

      Reply
  2. May 3, 2011, 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Good advice!

    One free service that is handy is Boomerang for Gmail. You can schedule e-mails for the future or you can ask it to boomerang you an e-mail back at a later date.

    Reply
  3. May 4, 2011, 3:08 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Marc! I use Boomerang as well…it’s like the email version of “set it and forget it” aka “write the email and schedule it to send later.”

    Reply

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