Why Professional Inbox Zero Matters

I’m a productivity enthusiast, and I do my best to stay on top of my tasks, emails included.

I adopted GTD methodology, as I think it can greatly help to boost productivity and help you focus on what matters.

Like many of you, I have a Company email address, where I get around 100 emails, which I have to read each working day.

But actually, I don’t do it: instead, I focus on messages that matter and postpone all others.

Weekly, I handle a “professional inbox zero” evening, where I read and manage all emails in my inbox until it’s empty.

I don’t do it for my personal inboxes, which I regularly check (at least once a day), tracking tasks in my GTD systems when required.

Is Professional Inbox Zero Worth?

There’s much debate on the irrelevance of pursuing inbox zero, as it quickly looks the opposite you should do when focusing on what truly matters for you as a professional in your Company.

Managing all email quickly ends up in pursuing what matters to your senders instead.

But for me, this is not black or white: managing your relevant emails matters. And therefore, you need a method to stay on top of them efficiently.

I think eliminating clutter keeping my “virtual desk” clean (where I visualize my emails as virtual papers occupying a significant part of my desk) increases focus on what you decide to do.

Furthermore, acting timely on emails that require feedback reinforces your reputation of reliability, availability to listen, and reachability.

And your sense of getting things done is improved, which, consequently, makes you more positive, confident, and therefore more productive.

How Often Should You Lower Your Professional Inbox to Zero?

I thought a lot about the pros and cons of reaching inbox zero daily. And I tried to do it for a while. I then stopped, though, but I still think regularly emptying my professional inbox matters.

I realized the optimum time window that works for me is a week: it helps me following up on new emails in the upcoming days, and it gives me the confidence that in the worst case, forgotten or buried emails will get managed in a week at last.

My Professional Inbox Management System

Sharing my experience, here’s what I recommend:

  • be proactive in reducing incoming email volumes by asking your team to avoid or limit emails where they wish to inform you. Ask them to forward relevant emails for your information or actions instead
  • set automatic rules to stop receiving unuseful emails (e.g., systems alerts can go to a specific folder, which you can check only when needed)
  • when checking your inbox, don’t just use the “last-in-first-out” approach: order your emails by the sender (e.g., your boss, peers, stakeholders, key team members), object (e.g., “urgent”), or any criteria which fit for you, and serve those emails first
  • disable new emails notifications from all your devices
  • set specific time slots to manage your emails during each working day, so to focus more on that, you do
  • convert emails to tasks if they need more than a few minutes to be managed; for me, they become next actions in GTD methodology; then archive them
  • be bold in deleting or archiving less relevant emails, so to speed the process up
  • use emails content preview option to assess the relevance of each email quickly
  • don’t categorize email: search engines work extensively, and deciding which category fits for each email takes time; move managed or converted-to-tasks emails to your archive folder (I keep one archive folder per year)
  • if you can’t keep up, for instance, because you miss your weekly sessions, place your emails in a temporary folder, so to clean your inbox up, and reserve one or more calendar slots to manage them later; after a while, if you’ve still emails there and no one claimed feedback, well you can probably move them to your archive directly.

Keep your virtual desk clean and stay productive!

“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned”

Benjamin Franklin