Inbox Zero Habit: How to Empty Your Email Inbox Daily [30 DHC]
Email is an important part of life.
Whether you use it stay in touch with friends or as part of your job, using email is a routine that most people do on a daily basis.
Unfortunately email is often a “time suck” that takes you away from working on important projects and living life. Even worse—it often causes a lots of stress. When your inbox is full of unanswered messages, it’s not easy to relax and focus on the things that truly matter.
Now, if you look closely at many successful people, you’d see they’re not buried under thousands of messages. Their secret? They practice the habit called “Inbox Zero,” where they completely empty their inbox every single day.
So, for December's 30 Day Habit Challenge (30DHC), I set the goal to develop the daily inbox zero habit. (Actually I’ve done it already for a few months, but didn’t start “officially” tracking it until December.)
In this post, we’ll talk about this productivity habit and a few strategies you can use to do it on a consistent basis.
30DHC for December 2013 – Practice Daily Inbox Zero
Here’s an overview of this habit challenge:
#1 – Reason Why
Like many entrepreneurs, I get a lot of email—sometimes over 100 messages a day. Yes, this number doesn’t compare to the volume that some people receive, but it still requires a few hours of my time.
Now I love hearing from people, but every hour that’s spent on email means an hour that I lose on important business tasks—like writing and marketing. (Yes, I know that talking to readers is marketing, but let’s not split hairs here.)
For a while, I’ve been tempted to do what some people do and declare “email bankruptcy” where I’d delete all my messages and declare that I no longer answer messages. However, I think this is a dangerous strategy. When people take time to write you, it’s only fair to reply back.
Ultimately, I decided on a smarter strategy—develop a simple habit for processing email in the most efficient manner, which led me to the inbox zero concept.
#2 – Description
At first, my goal was to inbox zero for every day in December—a total of 31 days. While this goal was “doable,” I knew there were certain days where I wouldn’t be in front of a computer (like Christmas, occasional weekend activities and a full-day trip to New York City.) So, I decided that this habit would be successful if I completed it 25 out of 31 days.
During this time, I added some mini-habits that helped eliminate the stress and inefficiency when dealing with email:
- Setting up email forwarding scripts that funnel all my messages into one inbox.
- Checking email once (maybe twice) a day.
- Disabling the email app on my iPhone.
- Stop using my inbox as a to-do list. I either scheduled the required action or did it right away.
- Using the “two-minute rule” for each message. If I could do it during this time, I would take immediate action.
- “Single-handling” each message. When I open a message, I take action. Either I do what’s needed or I record the action in a to-do list. This means, no saving the message in the inbox for future reference.
- Unsubscribing from pointless emails instead of just deleting them.
- Creating template responses for common questions that I receive, which are then personalized for each person.
- Saying no to projects/requests that aren’t 100% aligned with what I’m currently doing.
This is just a small sample of all the actions that I took to build this habit. Once I started doing it daily, I discovered a number of fun hacks that helped me stem the tide of email.
#3 – Obstacles
The biggest obstacle occurred during my days off. In the past, I didn’t work on Saturdays, Sundays and half of Friday. Since the inbox zero habit was connected to my business that meant “working” on days off—even if it only took 30 minutes of my time. Mentally this was a challenge because I never felt truly relaxed.
So, eventually I decided that the easiest way to get it done was to process email first thing in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays, which basically replaced the writing habit that I do during the rest of the week.
#4 – Results
I achieved inbox zero on 28 out of 31 days—three more than I anticipated.
The cool part?
This habit led to three positive benefits…
First, my total time spent on email dramatically reduced. Whereas it once took me 1- to 2-hours a day to process every message, now I can do it in 30- to 40-minutes per day. This means I’ve gained an hour of productivity every single day.
Another benefit is my interactions with readers has dramatically improved. Inbox zero is a like another skill—once you’ve done it awhile you can make quick decisions and give each person the best possible piece of advice. Moreover, you get to respond to their request within 24 hours which helps build relationships.
Finally, I’ve broken the bad habit of being tethered to my phone. No longer do I check my email when I’m out and about. Now, the only time I open my inbox is when I’m in front of the computer—ready to process every single message.
#5 – Verdict
It’s great to achieve inbox zero on a daily basis. You’re less stressed and feel more in control of your life. Both of these benefits are important as you develop other positive habits.
The downside to this habit? Responding to emails on your days off can be a grind. So moving forward, I’ve decided to skip email for one day a week.
Coming Soon: The Daily Inbox Zero Kindle Book
I’ve learned a lot about inbox zero in the last few months. While I’ve developed a decent framework that’s halved my email time, I feel there’s still more to learn about this process. That’s why I now have a simple goal: Find a way to turn email into a simple, stress-free habit that you don’t dread on a daily basis.
To be honest, there is a lot more information I could have included in this post. But I’ve decided to save it for a Kindle book that I’m currently writing. The good news? When I finally “launch” it, I will give it away for free to email subscribers. Want to learn about this subject? Then join my list and get an instant notification when it’s available.
Until then, you can minimize the amount of time you spend on email by doing the following:
- Disable the email app on your mobile phone.
- Check email only when you’re ready to take action.
- Create template responses for common requests.
- Spend time learning an email program like Gmail where you can filter messages.
- Unsubscribe from pointless emails instead of just deleting them.
- Use the “two-minute rule” to process each message
- Stop using your inbox as a to-do list.
Just follow these seven rules for the next month and you’ll eliminate a lot of the time that’s spent on email. Then you can use this extra time to focus on the important things in life.