Managing Your Emails and Increasing Productivity with Inbox Zero (Step 7 of 12)

Electronic Mail was first invented in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson and the term EMAIL was founded by Shiva Ayyadurai in 1982. Regardless to say, the introduction of email has drastically changed the way we work and communicate with one another on a day to day basis. 

Email gives people infinite access to you. An office worker receives an average of 90 emails and sends out approximately 40 emails per day. If you have your email notifications turned on your phone, that is 630 notifications you will get a week!

We Receive about 630 Emails a Week!!

The solution people come up with to deal with the number of emails they receive is to continuously check their email accounts throughout the day. This is done in an attempt to triage and respond to the abundance of emails they are receiving. Despite the amount of time people spend on their email accounts, most people I know have well over hundreds or even thousands of emails in their inbox. 

Why do we need to be efficient with Email? I classify Email as a shallow task. Very rarely does it add significant value to meaningful projects in our lives. However, it consumes so much of our day and prevents us from performing deep focus to complete our Most Important Tasks (MITs). By having an efficient way to process all of your emails once a day, you will leave time to complete your MITs and perform Deep Work that significantly contributes to your career and life. 

In 2007, Merlin Mann introduced a concept called “Inbox Zero” with the goal of effectively managing email accounts instead of using it as a “To Do” list.

After implementing “Inbox Zero” in my own life over the past decade, here is my interpretation of how to get your Inbox to Zero:

Consolidate All Email Accounts

Consolidating your email accounts saves a tremendous amount of time by giving you access to all emails in a unified program. I currently use Microsoft Outlook (Mac Version). The Mail App that comes standard on Macs also works well. I have 5 different active email accounts and being able to consolidate them helps me process them all at once. 

If you only have one email account, then you can probably just use the native email site. 

Create a System to Process all Incoming Email

The reason most people are unable to clear their inbox is that they have not developed a process to handle any email that lands in their inbox. They are unsure if they should delete it, so they just let it sit so they can “deal with it later.” Any email should either be deleted or converted to some type of action

I suggest the following system for processing any emails:

  1. Delete
  2. Delegate
  3. Do
  4. Defer
  5. Archive

Delete

This is the simplest action. Any email that has little to no potential benefit should be deleted immediately. Do not read this type of email and then wait to delete it later. You waste time by looking at an email that should have been deleted in the first place. Also if there is spam email, don’t just delete that email but either block emails from that sender or unsubscribe immediately. 

Delegate

Figure if someone else is better suited to answer or take action on a specific email. If so, immediately forward the email to that person and request that they take action on the email

Do

If you can’t delete the email or delegate it, then the next step is to determine if you are able to “Do” the action that is necessary to process that email. “Doing” the action may involve reading an email for content, responding to an email, clicking on relevant links on an email, etc. If you have the time and resources to “Do” the action that the email requires then do it right away and complete the action. 

Defer

If you encounter an email that you can’t Delete, Delegate, or have enough time to Do then you will need to defer it to a later date. Deferring should absolutely be the last resort since it involves you looking at an email more than once. 

If deferring an email is necessary, this can be done in several ways. Personally, I use Outlook to create a “Follow Up” date to respond to the email. That way I can still archive the email but have a set date to respond to it later. Another way is to print out the email and stick it in your Boomerang File for a specific date to respond to the email. Or there is an app that allows you to send an email back to yourself at a later date using gmail.

Don’t leave items you are deferring in your actual inbox. The whole point of being at “Inbox Zero” is that you have ZERO emails in your inbox. Having a process to defer emails is probably the step that keeps most people from achieving Inbox Zero.

Archive

The last step is to archive all emails in your inbox to complete clear it out daily.

EASY WAY TO ARCHIVE: **This is recommended if you have thousands of emails in your Inbox. Merlin Mann suggests using one folder called “Archive” and placing all undeleted emails in the “Archive” folder after they have been processed. Any email should be easily retrieved using the search function. This is absolutely the simplest way to archive processed emails. If you choose to do this way it is great. 

COMPREHENSIVE WAY: Personally, I categorize all of my emails into folders just like my Physical and Digital Workspaces. I have an Active Projects Folder and General Reference Folder for my email accounts. I find sometimes I forget the exact keyword to find an email and it sometimes make it hard to find with just the search function. Being able to quickly go to pertinent folders in my email accounts has been very helpful for me. 

Whatever way you choose make sure you stick with it and process all emails in your inbox with the system above daily. 

Check Emails in Order from Latest to Newest

Giving priority to certain emails over others makes it less likely that you will process all emails and get to Inbox Zero. Unless an email truly needs immediate response (very rare), I process my emails from latest to newest using the system above. 

View Each Email only ONCE

Whenever you view an email more than once you will be wasting time the second or third time you view it. Always try to process an email the first time you view it using the system above. As you continue to use the system you will become faster and processing emails will become much easier for you as you develop it into a habit. 

Process All Emails Only Once a Day

This step took me some time to adapt since I was so used to checking my emails whenever a phone notification would pop up. Now I set a specific 1-2 hour time frame during my day where I process all emails (from latest to newest) using the above system. 

For me, I find that the absolute best time to process emails is between 1-3pm. This ensures that I respond to any emails from yesterday afternoon as well as any emails that come in the current morning. If someone sends me an email past 3pm, most of the time they would find it reasonable to get a response from me the next day.

I think this would work for most people and especially physicians. However, if your job actually requires you to respond to emails very quickly such as for customer service or support you will need to adapt the frequency.

Inbox Zero on the Desktop
Inbox Zero on the Phone

Turn Off Notifications

In order for you to not be distracted throughout the day by Emails, you need to turn off the phone notifications and the badge notifications. As simple as this sounds, most people will be tempted to look through their emails once a phone notification comes up. This will cause endless distractions (630 a week to be precise) and prevent you from doing your Most Important Tasks!

Setup Expectations for Others

If you end up adopting this process of Inbox Zero to manage your emails you may need to let others become aware of this so they know when to expect emails responses from you. I let people know if they really want to reach me urgently: CALL me and leave a message!

There are times when I am unable to respond to emails even once a day, usually when I am on vacation, conference, or for very busy weeks when I am in the ICU and working 100+ hours. In those cases, I just place an automatic message stating I won’t be able to respond to emails until I am done with my ICU week or back in town from the conference. Also, if possible, I make sure to put another emergency contact such as another physician or secretary that people can contact for any urgent issues. Or if you are comfortable you can put your Phone Number for them to call you.

Here is the template that I use and feel free to adapt accordingly!

I will have limited to no access to email until Month/Day/Year. I apologize in advance for any inconvenience and for delayed responses during this time. Please contact *** for any urgent issues. 

The above system has worked for me for the past 10 years and almost every day I achieve Inbox Zero despite having an abundance of email. What have you found that works for you!

I hope you enjoyed this post! Click here for an overview of all 12-steps to help you achieve a productive life.

Please sign up for our newsletter below if you would like to receive updates as each step comes out! Once again, I look forward to being part of your productive and stress-free life.

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1 thought on “Managing Your Emails and Increasing Productivity with Inbox Zero (Step 7 of 12)”

  1. Pingback: 12 Steps That Will Make Your Productivity Soar - Physician Zen

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