How to achieve and maintain Inbox Zero

Working at Techstars comes with voluminous montains of email a day.  On an average day, I get north of 250 emails, most requiring some sort of response.  On a high-volume day (like during applicaiton cycle), I can get as many as 500 emails in one day.

It’s daunting.  And since I pride myself on responsiveness and follow-through, it eats away at me if I can’t respond to everyone.  I’ve been buried in email for the last 2 years, and I’ve tried more methods, software solutions, tricks, processes, etc to solve this problem.   I’ve finally succeeded in getting out and I want to share my method.  Here’s what I do.

  1. Use GMAIL!  Spam filters + labels are incredible.
  2. Use the web browser to read your email, don’t use a client.  It took me about 3 weeks to get to the point where I actually liked working with the native gmail interface, but once I got used to it, now I love it. You cannot beat keyboard shortcuts for speed.
  3. Use the Google Labs feature called “Multiple Inboxes”.  When you configure it, configure it to show ON THE RIGHT.
  4. I show 2 labels as my “multiple inboxes” on the right.  1 is called “do by friday” and the other is called “do sometime”.
  5. As I read my email, I either a) answer it right away.  b) label it “do by friday”  or c) label it “do sometime”
  6. Use Boomerang.
  7. Schedule 1-2 hours each day for nothing but EMAIL.  Block it off on your calendar.  I try to do ~ 1 hour in the morning as soon as I get in, and 1 hour right before I leave.

Alright, now that the basic setup is complete….  here are the tricks.  It’s important that you show the multiple inboxes on the right and filter by those two labels. If the labels are just buried in the label list on the left, or if they’re above or below your normal inbox, you won’t see them.  It’s also imperative that you move stuff out of your inbox as soon as you get it, either by labeling it with one of those two labels, or replying to it right away.  If you can reply to it within 60 seconds, do it right then.  If not, apply one of those two labels.  You should never read an email in your inbox twice.  If its an email you reply to, but need a response  back from, use Boomerang.  It’s a great little service that says “add this message back to my inbox if no one replies in X days”.  So once I hit send, I just boomerang it, then archive it so its out of my inbox.  It will appear back if people don’t follow through.

I also schedule extra time on fridays to empty out my “do by friday” label.

If your email gets tagged “do sometime” – goodluck.  I will respond to it at my earliest, which might be next week or might be next month or in 3 months.  But I will respond.

This method works for me, hope it works for you too!