“It’s crazy at work!” Does this sound familiar? Too often, we let ourselves get caught up in the overwhelming environment of our office. The phone rings, you receive notifications every two minutes, and worst of all, you check your emails all the time in fear of missing an important message.
The truth is, work doesn’t have to be this crazy, and very often, the problem stems from how you manage your emails.
This behavior is unfortunately anchored in our professional world, but the damage on productivity is tremendous. The average person spends 28% of their work time reading and responding to email. If you work 40 hours per week, that’s about 11 hours spent on email! The same report suggests that only 42% of emails are important or relevant, which makes this waste of time even worse.
At Labiotech, we’re always on the look for new ways to optimize our time and help our team be more productive. Early in our entrepreneurial journey, we switched to an email methodology called Inbox Zero. Thanks to this simple method, we’ve saved a huge amount of time and reduced time spent on email to less than four hours per week.
What is Inbox Zero exactly?
Inbox Zero is a productivity technique that consists of systematically emptying your email inbox each time you connect to your email service without leaving anything unanswered or unsorted. Sounds easy, right? If you think so, just go to your inbox and check the number of emails that are sitting there, then please reduce it to zero!
This simple action could be very challenging for many people who have always used their inbox as a storage place. But your inbox is not meant for storage!
Just think about it in another way: do you leave your postal mails in your mailbox? No, of course not! You take them out, read them, trash what’s not necessary, answer what needs to be answered, and archive what needs to be kept. Why don’t you do the same thing with your email? After all, emails are just a digital equivalent of your postal mail. The proof is that all the email providers work the same as postal mail: they have an inbox for incoming messages, a bin to trash them, and an archive button to store them.
Convinced? Then here’s a simple blueprint to implement Inbox Zero.
If it’s the first time you’re trying to reach Inbox Zero, you will have to make an initial cleaning. Connect to your email provider and archive all your email except the last 50. This is arbitrary; the idea is just to keep the most recent ones. (You’re not likely to answer the emails below the first 50, anyway—don’t kid yourself.) Also, don’t be afraid about losing important information. The emails are stored in the archive and can easily be found using the search bar.
Now, go over those first 50 emails and systematically follow this process on each one:
- Is this email actionable? Meaning, you can or you should do something with it? If not, trash it if it’s not relevant or archive it if you want to keep it for later reference.
- If the email is actionable, will it take less than two minutes to complete this action? If yes, just do it now! Leaving it unresolved and coming back to it later will duplicate the time required to complete it.
- If the email is not actionable in less than two minutes, you have two options:
- Delegate it to the person who will be the most relevant to do it.
- Defer it, meaning that you will create a task in your to-do list to complete this action later.
You should now have reduced the clutter in your inbox and have between one and ten emails left. But we’re not done yet! Remember, the goal is to reach zero emails in your inbox. The remaining emails are quite important, but letting them sit there will create an effect of unachievement in your brain. So, here’s what to do about them:
- Emails waiting for an answer: I use a label to mark these as “Waiting”, and then archive them. Once a week, I go into the label and follow up with all the emails marked to make sure that they will receive an answer.
- Emails waiting to be completed: Use a label called “To do” or “Next action,” and archive them as well after adding the task to your to-do list.
That’s it! Nothing should be left in your inbox. Now you will use the exact same process for all future incoming emails. It takes some thinking in the beginning, but after a few days, this process will become automatic. Welcome to a stress-free inbox!
Reconsider the way you interact with emails
I’ve seen many people using the Inbox Zero technique without really reducing the time they spend on emails. For me, the problem lies in our conception of emails and other digital messages.
Here are four secrets that helped us reduce our email time to less than four hours per week:
1. Stop the interruptions
Notifications are your enemy in the workplace. If you never tweaked your setup, it’s very likely that your computer and your phone are flashing and ringing with notifications every two minutes. And of course, you can’t do anything but check them! The first misconception we have is due to the Fear Of Missing Out effect (FOMO). Receiving notifications gives you a feeling of being aware of what’s going on, but in reality, they’re just stopping you from reaching a deep focus state (called the “flow “or “being in the zone”).So, to be more productive, create the right environment and deactivate all the notifications on your computer (really, all of them!). Also, hide your phone from your view while you work, otherwise the effect will be the same. There’s no other way around it: we’re curious creatures and can’t stop from opening these damned notifications.
2. Batch your tasks
Now that distractions are far from you, it’s time to implement the right method to focus deeply. This is easy: instead of checking your inbox every ten minutes, start defining specific times during the day where you will open your inbox and treat all new emails with the Inbox Zero method. The best is to define two or three slots per day (I recommend before lunch and before leaving the office). Now you can use the rest of your day productively without constantly looking for new emails.
3. Stop sorting your emails into folders
Are you proud of your super well-organized email folders? I have bad news—it’s a pure waste of your time! Gmail integrates the most advanced search engine. It will find any email way faster than with you could do with folders. Just try it: type an email subject or the name of someone in the search bar, and I’m sure you’ll find anything you want. Stop sorting your emails into folders when it’s not helping, anyway.
4. Reduce the back-and-forth messages
Last but not least, think about how you could reduce emails simply by adopting another means of communication. One example I like to use is how people schedule meetings over email. Very often, it takes between two and ten messages to find an empty timeslot. That’s a lot of emails! To reduce the back and forth, you can use a simple technique called “If…Then.” For example, instead of writing, “Can you meet at 4:00 p.m.?” you could write, “Can you meet at 4:00 p.m.? If not, please advise three other times that work for you.” This simple technique can be used in many contexts and save you a lot of time.
The benefits of reducing your time on emails
Since our team switched to this system, we’ve seen many benefits:
- Inbox Zero increased our responsiveness and reliability to others
- Batching our email time increased the time available to do tasks that require deep focus
- Our inboxes are always empty at the end of the day, increasing the feeling of achievement and providing a daily reward!
What would you do with 30% more time per week? I’m sure you can already imagine all the benefits. In one year, we increased the average productivity of our employees by 26% simply by providing them with training on productivity. You could do the same for you and your colleagues!
Feel free to reach out to me for any advice or comments. 😉