153: How to Get to Inbox Zero


Welcome friends to Episode #153 of the Own Your Best Life Podcast. In this world where more often feels like it is better, there’s one place where more isn’t so great. Emails. Do you ever feel like it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole? A feeling that no matter what you do, there’s more. Maybe you’ve gotten to the point where you have so many emails sitting unread that you’ve given up on the idea of getting to inbox zero. For those who want to get to that place of zero unread emails, I’ve done inbox zero and have also come in and out of this strategy. In today’s podcast, we’re going to share what getting to inbox zero really feels like, how to do it and a few different approaches to think about if it’s for you or not.

I love a good strategy and I love good practical tips. Organizing is a passion of mine, not because it just feels good but because I have a lot going on at times and without some level of organization, I have a harder time keeping track of all the balls in the air.

I’ve got the kids’ schedules which differ day to day. I’ve got my corporate training work, my coaching work, my health, relationships and my time for me to just be away from the world.

I love to travel, do new things and see and meet new people and friends alike. My life feels full but the most precious thing about it is the feeling of having enough time to take care of what’s important. 

Humans love to get their dopamine hits off of getting things done. Emails will often be one of these sneaky ways that we feel like work is getting done, but many times, it’s not. We also have projects that are done offline and time spent in meetings with people. We have to balance responsiveness with responsibilities. We’re not tasked to just answer emails nor are we tasked to never reply to people’s urgent emails or requests. 

Managing our inbox is an art and as someone who has had both thousands of unread emails and inbox zero for a long time, I’ve come to see that deciding how to respond and manage your inbox is not as binary as we think. It’s one of the arts of productivity and effectiveness – and in the beginning, I thrived off of having every rule and color-coded option utilized so that I could seamlessly answer and respond to emails. Then, the demands of life increased. I went back to school full-time, was recruiting for jobs and meeting a lot of new people and organizations. 

As someone who never paid anything late, I had a bill that I missed. I booked a flight on the wrong day in Bali which we found out about once we were at the airport. I realized that I needed to sharpen my organizational skills again and refresh them for where I was. I am still not color-coding everything or creating a thousand rules in my inbox. But I do have a few strategies that I stick to and ways that I think about emails that are very helpful in managing all of the different documents and tasks that have to be done. 

Today, I’m going to cover a snippet of that – which is how to get to inbox zero if you’re currently not there – and how to do it in a day.

Why you don’t need inbox zero

Before we get to inbox zero strategies, I’m going to do something counter-intuitive. I’m going to tell you why you don’t need inbox zero. I love to see an empty inbox as much as the next person but one of the reasons inbox zero may not be the best strategy, is when you make emails the priority over more important things. 

Unless you sit and only watch your inbox all day long, you do have to let emails build up over time as you handle other things in life. Vacation is a prime time when inbox zero doesn’t work. What if you go away and stop looking at emails? If you’re truly following inbox zero, you’d read your emails every single day no matter where you are and what you’re doing.

What I prefer to do instead is treat inbox zero as a set point for a set time period that makes sense. Prioritize whether or not you want to do inbox zero on certain days when you’ve got a lot to be responding to in your inbox. You also have to choose between personal or professional inbox zero. I disable all my notifications so I can focus on work, so having inbox zero set to the end of the day or a week or a month often works better for me. I’m also more relaxed about personal emails building up because I know what those emails are and most of them are not as urgent.

Inbox zero in a day

If you’re serious about inbox zero and you have a lot of emails unread, the first strategy is to do these 5 steps. You’ll need to block off a good several hours though – maybe several days, depending on how many unread emails you have to work through and how many different senders. I find for myself it’s about 4 hours for every 1000 personal emails. So if I have 250 emails, it should take me a solid hour to get through all of them. For work emails, it will differ based on how much junk email I get and how email-heavy my communications are with other people. 

Steps to get to inbox zero:

  1. Go in chronological order.
  2. Unsubscribe and delete all the emails that you don’t need or want to receive.
  3. Mark as read anything you want to keep for reference
  4. Keep a note pad next to you to make a list of any actions needed from your emails
  5. Don’t stop until they’re all done

The biggest thing to do is to move with a sense of urgency and speed. Go as if you’re going to win something once you get past the first 10 emails, then the next 10 emails. Celebrate every email read as a win. You don’t have to get to inbox zero to feel the organized part of you come alive. Every time you delete, unsubscribe and write down a to-do, answer the email, you’re building muscle for decision-making again and again. When you come back to it, the neural pathway is built. This is just what I do. Emails don’t stand a chance.

There is no secret to a lot of this other than work. Yet, most people don’t do things because they don’t feel like it or they don’t want to. Pain is temporary, the pride from doing something you thought you couldn’t do is forever. This kind of tolerance to doing things you don’t love is part of living life. Getting up in the morning doesn’t feel like a dream come true when you’re tired but you do it. It’s our job and the only thing standing between us and loving things is knowing that maybe we don’t have to have the warm and fuzzy feeling for us to do what we know we want to do. That sometimes what we want to do is to finally do the hard stuff. 

There is always a time and a place to learn how to push and when to pull back. No one is ever in push mode forever. No one is always in pull back mode forever. You need to rest, you need to recover and you want to be appreciative of the time you have. I see emails as this connection point and we get to manage the in and outflow. When we feel defeated by this thing called technology which is supposed to help us, we can start to question what we’re doing and why you feel this way. We weren’t meant to be on machines 24/7 or work all the time on our digital devices, yet we can. Know that as much as it is a feat to answer and respond to everything, constantly – it isn’t the most important thing. Use it as a tool. Reduce, eliminate and delegate what you can. Then the rest is just part of the life where you work on improving it just a little bit every time. 

Maybe you get to inbox zero and you go back to inbox 80, but you were at 250. That’s still progress and a win. Maybe you don’t get to inbox zero, but you get to 100 fewer emails than you had before. Maybe you don’t get enough emails and you are wondering why would anyone be trying to get down to zero because it’s so easy. Either way, it’s not about the emails. It’s about where you are, what you want and why that’s important to you.

For anyone trying to get to inbox zero, listen to this podcast as you start working through your emails. Start with the easy things first and then go for the hard ones. Celebrate, come back and celebrate some more. You use technology, my friend – not the other way around. Start getting on the phone more or use other communication devices if emails don’t make sense and it seems to be working against you rather than for you. Schedule time to process emails or days to do some organization. Most of all – know that you’re not alone, we’re all doing these things together.

If you like this blend of both practicality and mindset, you will love coaching. You can schedule a consultation at www.mayempson.com/contact  to learn more about working together and joining this community of like-minded, open and curious seekers. It is the powerful group and private coaching hybrid experience for achievers who want to expand their vision of what’s possible. 12 months of support, individualized guidance, community and retreats. We will help you build your confidence, trust your intuition and make decisions that you love.

If you’re ready to Own Your Best Life, I want to invite you to watch the free training on how to Stand Out and Lead, using spiritual, high-performance strategies. You can access the training at https://may-empson.mykajabi.com/stand-out-and-lead.

You can then apply to join my Spiritual Achiever® program, where you’re going to create your next chapter with spiritual and high-performance strategies to achieve time and financial freedom using my proven method. It’s risk-free. You either start seeing results within your first month or I give you your money back. Schedule your call HERE. We’ll see you inside.

That’s it for this week. Have an amazing one and I’ll talk to you next time.

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