While we’re still fresh in the new year, I wanted to impart some serious secret sauce for organizing your life — financial and otherwise. In all reality, it’s not much of a secret. Or a sauce. So I’ve basically lost all my credibility in the very first paragraph. It’s been around awhile, but I’m still amazed at how few people have tried it, let alone heard of it. So if this is new to you, buckle up!
I probably don’t really need to explain what Inbox Zero actually entails, but I will for those who suspect its a covert military operation. Inbox Zero is bringing the number of emails in your inbox to zero. Not the number of unread emails. Not the number of forwarded emails from your conspiracy theorist uncle. ZERO EMAILS, PERIOD. So are you sufficiently freaked out? Good.
Current State of Your Inbox
Think about your real mailbox. You know, the one you where you get your real-life mail delivered. Do you just leave stuff in there? Do you look at junk mail from Publisher’s Clearinghouse and then just leave it there? Do you open bills, read them, put them back in their envelope, draw a yellow star on it, and then put it back in the mailbox? No. But if you do, I bet your mailman wants to choke you — watch your back.
Take a look at your inbox right now. You’ve probably figured out some method for organizing your emails: labels, stars, marking as unread. I used to use a really intricate system of all three. But as soon as a starred email slipped off of the first page, it was as good as gone. And so I’d forget to respond to a friend about meeting for lunch, or canceling my 3-month trial subscription to Nerf Gunners Magazine (note: this is a fictitious magazine title, but I’m pretty sure I’d renew my subscription if it were real). As a former label-er, star-er, and mark-as-unread-er (and current receipt hoarder), I’m here to tell you: there’s a better way.
Why is Inbox Zero So Great?
Because your inbox will no longer be a source of anxiety. In fact, your inbox will become your go-to destination for when you need to get things done. My inbox is the most important to-do list I manage. If I want to see what bills need to be paid, I look at my inbox. If I want to see who I still need to write back, I look at my inbox. If I need a reminder to preorder tickets to a concert, I look at my inbox. If you can’t already tell, I now enjoy looking at my inbox.
Who wouldn’t want to look at that all day?
So how do I start?
Great question, hypothetical questioner. There are a lot of different methods, but I’ll offer two.
- The easiest way — Select all of your emails, deselect any that still require action, and then press “Archive.” Poof. Your inbox is cleared. And the best part is, you can still access all of those emails in your All Mail folder.
- The OCD way — This is the route I chose. I went through my entire inbox (over 50,000 messages), labeled any emails of some significance (account information, gooey sentimental love letters, etc.) and then archived everything.
It was actually a fun blast from the past to peruse emails from 2004 when Gmail was freshy fresh. But if I had to do it all over, I’d probably save the 30+ hours over a few months and just archive everything in one fell swoop. It might take a little courage at first, but so long you press Archive, all of those emails are safe and sound.
So What Do I Do with New Email?
Whenever I receive a new email, I do one of four actions:
- Dispose — Is it junk? Mark as spam or delete. Is it something worth holding on to, but requires no action? Archive it.
- Delegate — Is it something that your spouse or coworker is better equipped to handle? Forward it.
- Respond — Is it an email you can resolve immediately? Reply, and then archive it. (Or use awesome tip #4 from NeonFresh)
- Delay — Is it a reminder to pick something up later in the week? Is it an email that requires a thoughtful response that you can’t tackle right now? Leave it in your inbox, and then archive it after action has been taken.
By allowing myself the option to delay, it does mean that my inbox isn’t always at zero. I’m not a total purist on this point. But I also don’t let it get out of control. On any given day, I’ll have between 0 to 10 emails in my inbox. I try to clear it out by day’s end. But it’s not uncommon for certain bill reminders to sit in my inbox for a few days. So while the system might be called Inbox Zero, I disregard the letter of the law and opt for what works best for me.
I’ve been a devout Inbox Zero-er for three years now. I’ve helped Joanna and a handful others make the jump. Needless to say, it’s something I’m passionate about. It’s helped me better manage my finances, personal correspondence, and career. I no longer stress about forgetting to email so-and-so, because it’s staring me right in the face every time I login.
Despite all my praise for it, I know it might not be for everyone. Totally fine. But as my good friend Ben Harper sings (in a song about “Burning one down”… I’ll let you guess what he’s talking about), “Before you knock it, try it first.”
Are you an Inbox Zero devotee? Why or why not? Are you happy with your current inbox organization system?
(Original photo by sysop1021)