Inbox Zero, a productivity and organization tactic introduced by Merlin Mann in a Google Tech Talk years ago has become a hugely popular way for people to process large volumes of email in a short space of time without becoming overwhelmed – it’s perfect for prioritizing your emails, giving you more time to concentrate on other things outside of email, and preventing your priorities being set by the people who are contacting you.
It involves sorting all your mail as it arrives so everything is either dealt with immediately if it can be, or sorted into the appropriate place for it to be easily addressed later, avoiding the dreaded pile of unread emails looming over you:
It’s disheartening to see this when you want to get organized, but don’t despair because where there’s a will there’s a way, and with the help of some tactics and Email Meter you can get on top of things.
There is already a number of guides explaining how to stick to Inbox Zero, so I’m going to cover the steps quickly before I get onto how you can use Email Meter to help make the whole process easier:
Go through your emails and delete EVERYTHING which you know you won’t need in the future – for anything you may need in the future, use the Archive.
Don’t worry if you are hesitating to delete that confirmation email for that movie you went to see 3 years ago just in case… I’m also a hoarder by nature, but you need to be ruthless, and anything which might actually come in useful, Archive it.
Once you’ve sorted what’s already there, it’s time to deal what’s incoming.
Anything which can or should be delegated to someone else can be put in a Delegated folder, and you can then set up a reminder system so you know what needs to be followed up – for example by snoozing the email within Gmail for when it needs to be followed up.
The rule set out here is anything which takes less than 2 minutes to deal with, you respond immediately.
This prevents quick and easy things from piling up, but you don’t want to be carelessly replying to emails which might require more thought or research, which brings us to step 4…
Anything which you need to take your time doing, which you need to think about, which you need to look something up for or check you are giving the right information in your reply, you should put in a Deferred folder.
Set yourself a number of times a day when you are going to come and deal with these emails in a predetermined space of time and stick to it.
You can use our Busiest Hours metric to check when your busiest times are for incoming email, so you can get in after you receive a bulk of emails and deal with them effectively.
You need to make this a habit for Inbox Zero to be truly beneficial. It can help to automate what you can using Gmail’s inbuilt filtering capabilities, for example with any frequent emails from a specific sender which you need to keep but not read, you could set up a filter to automatically Archive them.
There is a number of ways in which Email Meter can help you streamline your Inbox Zero habits:
Our Email Meter Add-on for Gmail and G Suite can give you thread specific metrics, so you can see metrics for your emails straight from your inbox.
One particularly helpful metric is Best Contact Time, which shows you the time that contact is most likely to reply to you immediately based on when they email you the most (and are therefore checking their inbox).
If you combine your Deferred emails with the Scheduling feature, you can write your reply in your allocated email time but then set it to be sent at the best possible time to avoid it being buried under other emails.
There is a number of Advanced Filters which can help you out:
If you are using Labels such as Important, Starred or Spam, you can filter for these to see the number of emails which fall under each category.
This can help you get a better understanding of how many you are receiving for each category, and therefore sending to each of your different folders.
The Status filter (Archived or Trashed) is a shining star for inbox zero – It lets you filter to see exactly how many of your received emails you are archiving, and how many you are sending to the trash.
If you think you are too lenient and are keeping everything, you can try to shift the numbers more towards the Trashed side.