Email workflow with Zero Inbox 

 12 December 2016

Productive, stress-free and motivating

I've been using "Zero Inbox" as a workflow for my email inboxes for a long time. The idea behind it is, as the name suggests, to keep the inbox of the mail program empty and not to use it as a to-do list, archive or similar.

What does Zero Inbox do for me?

One benefit I find quite handy is my increased productivity when dealing with emails. I can focus on the new, incoming mails and not see old mails that have been sitting in my inbox for days, weeks, years shouting "Hey, I'm still here too". With a few teething problems at the beginning, I have now managed to reduce the time for pure email processing from 2-3 to about 1h per day. On top of that it offers me a clean separation between emails and tasks/to-do's.

In retrospect, however, much more exciting: I no longer have stress with emails. I know where to find what and what the status is. In addition, it is a good feeling several times a day to move or delete the last mail from the inbox. This motivates me for the following tasks.

My workflow to Zero Inbox

In order to get through as efficiently as possible, I have established two frameworks:

  • Push notifications and automatic email retrieval are deactivated on all devices, i.e. mails are only retrieved when I open the mail program or the mail app. This is for a simple reason: I want to decide and have control over when I read emails and not be distracted by popups, sounds or vibrations. I check my emails about every 2-4h when I have completed other activities.
  • Archive structure: There is none anymore. I have been using only one folder for years: "Archive". As of today, this folder contains 12,627 mails. Using the search function, I can find everything I need faster than in the folder structures I used to build.
  • With a few exceptions, I've unsubscribed from most newsletters. For blogs, I use RSS to learn about new posts.

Now when I check my email, I check and process all incoming mail:

  1. Advertising, unimportant: will be deleted immediately
  2. Important information: I read it and move it to the archive folder.
  3. Mails that need to be processed/answered quickly: I process them immediately.
  4. Mails that need more time or contain other tasks, I forward to my task management (my to-do list) and move the mail to the archive or delete it.
  5. I forward mails that contain tasks for others or that others can solve better and then archive or delete them. I rarely use follow-ups. If I do, it's as a task in my todo list. But no markers, flags or anything else in the mail program.

Voilà, the inbox is empty. That usually takes me 5-15 minutes. Without email stress, but with the good feeling of having done something efficiently.