Will we ever obtain that illustrious INBOX ZERO? Entrepreneurs like us should flee at the sound of an empty inbox-after all, wouldn’t that mean no one wants our services? Mic drop. Kidding aside, we always hear this and that (it’s like this and like that and like this and uh) about ways to achieve an inbox zero and we salivate at the thought of that momentous occasion when it happens. Spoiler alert-it never happens.
For me, inbox zero doesn’t mean that all of my readers and clients have abandoned me, it means that all emails received have been reviewed and acted upon. They’re awaiting their next (and final) destination. For a long time I thought inbox zero meant that the inbox was emptied each day and now I know that’s wrong. It’s having a system in place to handle every incoming message until you’re ready to deal with it. Yes. You have to eventually deal with it.
Get to Inbox Zero with these 5 steps
1. Set aside time each day to go through your emails
Just like every other business task you have on that to-do list, you need to plan out some time each day to handle the influx of email messages you are getting. I have 30 minutes booked in the morning and again around 4pm to go through mine. Disclaimer: I suck at ignoring emails so this is one of those “do as I say” moments. The rest of the time you should be working on tasks that will earn you income and grow your business that blogs. Barring a few opportunities, email is not your cash cow. Your email list…now that’s a different story!
Repeat after me. We vow not to spend the entire day combing through emails.
Scheduling this dedicated time to review your inbox will ensure that you can review each line item and that you will thoughtfully consider what the hell to do with it. Lack of planning this process will lead to 1000’s of messages just clogging up your system. PRO TIP: It’s been proven that visual clutter will stress you the eff out just as much physical items sitting in your way.
2. Create filters to automatically handle most email messages
All email service providers allow their users to filter incoming messages according to specified criteria. Instead of having all of the email messages you are expecting drop to your inbox, set up filters that circumvent that folder all together. Filters work great for those emails that you know will regularly show up and normally just file for safekeeping; so you don’t have to read them right away.
I have filters set up that move inbox messages to these folders:
- Facebook group messages moved to respective folders
- Electronic magazines moved to my “read me” folder
- Blog challenges that last for several days filter to the appropriate “training” folder
Another great resource for filtering email messages that you want to read later is Unroll.Me. This folder will revolutionize your inbox processing system. No Exaggeration Boss Lady. Every message that enters your inbox in their world is called a subscription. Once a day you get one email that states how many emails their filter grabbed. You open that one email to read items right then or you can decide what to do with its contents (unsubscribe, roll up or leave in inbox).
What I love about this FREE program is that it will literally ask you about every inbox message that it first encounters. Let’s say you have 1000’s of messages. You can quickly click through each one and deal. Once you decide what you want done with each email, it stops asking and filters it appropriately.
- Unsubscribe: Banish emails in one click
- Roll Up: Moves emails to an Unroll.Me folder for viewing later
- Inbox: Keeps emails in the inbox (which is handy when you know the name of a brand and you want to see their message ASAP)
No more going to every individual account to unsubscribe, you just click a button and done. You can set up the Unroll.Me account delivery message to coincide with your email schedule. Genius. In a perfect world, your inbox will be designated for urgent mail from people paying you!
PRO TIP: Before trying this new process, remove all current filters and let everything drop to inbox. It’s annoying for a few days but everything will be seen with fresh eyes and decision making.
3. Decide the destination for your remaining messages
Instead of leaving any leftover emails sitting in your inbox, the way to inbox zero is to decide once and for all where you want each of the remaining emails to end up. The choices are going to be pretty much the same as any filters you’ve established. You can either leave it coming to the inbox (don’t do that), filter it to a folder for later or unsubscribe and banish it forever.
Be merciless in your decision making. If you don’t love the newsletter that your biz bestie is sending, then politely unsubscribe. If you’re not finding tons of value from those Facebook group messages, unsubscribe. Try to remember that even if you get rid of them right now; IF (and that’s a big if) you ever change your mind, you can go online and find it again. Right now you’re building your business and don’t have time.
Now that you’ve got every message derailed, it’s time to act.
4. Act on it
Start with your inbox and process those messages quickly.
- Skim for obvious spam and get rid of it
- Look for unimportant crap and delete it
- Sort messages by sender so you can recognize duplicates; keep the newest message. People often send several messages because they forgot additional information. Not. Your. Problem.
- Respond to those that require it. Type fast without worrying about typos (unless you’re working with a brand); we’re human and mistakes are forgiven. Add a statement in your signature that automatically excuses them. Something like “Excuse my typos, I’ve had a productive day and didn’t waste time checking my spelling.”
- Delegate and forward messages that can be handled by your VA.
- Take action and respond to any emails if doing so takes less than 3 minutes. You may be tempted to boomerang that sucker; don’t. It will just haunt you later.
- The only remaining items are actionable. Either leave them marked urgent/starred or use an ACTION NEEDED folder. Book time on the calendar to do these.
Now that everything is sorted, you can head to the NAMED FOLDERS anytime you have free time (hello Starbuck’s line) or scheduled catch up. Items in folders shouldn’t be essential to daily business growth since you risk forgetting about them. If it has a due date, mark it urgent or move it to an action folder. Otherwise get to it when you get to it.
5. File Folders
To differentiate between folders that contain stuff you want/need to read and stuff that you’re sure you need to keep, consider adding a FILED folder or adding the word “Filed” in front of the subject name of the folders you have. You’ll come up with your own system that works but for me, I do it like this:
- Folder named “Goals” is full of filtered emails that other’s have written and I haven’t fully read yet. Once read, it’s deleted or moved to the “filed goals” folder.
- Folder named “Filed Goals” is everything I wish to keep for future reference and not delete. This way I can keep the folders sorted by subject (goals) instead of having to search through one Filed folder looking for what I need. You could also just leave the read message in the original folder but I often forget what I’ve seen before and reading it twice wastes my precious time. [insert one very scary Gollam with his opinion!]
However you choose to finalize each email message, just be sure that it works for you and your habits.
Once you’ve got your filtering system in place and you’re used to the types of emails that you get, you’ll be able to scroll through your inbox and deal with the messages in no time. Inbox Zero is just that. Making sure that every day you’ve done your best to act on messages with only one touch. Get them out of your direct sight line and react once needed. Become proficient in deleting, filing and most importantly…unsubscribing. Stop adding more. Question every message and if you don’t need it, let it go. Your business will thank you.
Your Blog Biz Best Friend, Cee Lee
PS: Inbox Zero prep can be part of your strategic planning process each year. Feelings change so periodically review what you keep. If you need help with all of this, you can work with me to gain back control.