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Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty -- or almost empty -- at all times.

Inbox Zero was developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann. According to Mann, the zero is not a reference to the number of messages in an inbox; it is "the amount of time an employee's brain is in his inbox." Mann's point is that time and attention are finite and when an inbox is confused with a "to do" list, productivity suffers.

Mann identifies five possible actions to take for each message: delete, delegate, respond, defer and do.

Here are some of Mann's tips for effective email management:

  • Don't leave the email client open.
  • Process email periodically throughout the day, perhaps at the top of each hour.
  • First delete or archive as many new messages as possible.
  • Then forward what can be best answered by someone else.
  • Immediately respond to any new messages that can be answered in two minutes or less.
  • Move new messages that require more than two minutes to answer -- and messages that can be answered later -- to a separate "requires response" folder.
  • Set aside time each day to respond to email in the "requires response" folder or chip away at mail in this folder throughout the day.

See also:email bankruptcy, email rage, email response management system, munging

This was last updated in June 2014

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