What is an “inbox zero” or an “inbox zen”?

This is not a daily habit forming article. This is an unadulterated 3-step guide to emptying your bulging inbox. If you’re drowning in emails and feeling frazzled by that – and if you’re wasting precious minutes every time you need to find an email – this one’s for you.

Don’t let anyone tell you Inbox Zero is unobtainable. It’s not.

Here’s what one of Priority Management’s course graduates went through a couple of weeks ago to get to the promised land.

Step 1: Create folders for your emails to be filed into

First, I created three folders, titled: ‘2014 – 2017 Emails Archive’. The next, ‘2018 Emails Archive’, and the next, ‘2019 Emails Archive’.

Yes, I had emails in my inbox dating back to 2014. Please, no judgement.

These first three ‘yearly archive’ folders are for all my Personal emails that I need to keep – mainly for tax reasons; bills, receipts, correspondence, and so forth. I don’t think I’ll ever bother sorting these into subfolders, because the individual year folders aren’t too unwieldy to search within.

Next, I created separate folders for all of my work projects, past and present, and I created one for my own personal development/business planning too.

I then created a folder called ‘Training’ and another called ‘Reading’. ‘Training’ is for all of the emails I get from my business mentors and coaches – yes, I’m addicted to learning – and ‘Reading’ is reserved for blogs I do want to read, eventually.

Step 2: Get comfortable and make friends with Sort and Delete

I made a cuppa, turned on Spotify, and then got stuck in. I sorted my inbox by the ‘From’ column, so I could first delete all the stuff I knew I didn’t need, like emails from all the shops I’ve signed up for membership of over the years.

For me, this period of deleting emails only went for about a thousand years. :/

A tip for young players: do not hand over your work email willy-nilly. Productivity/self improvement junkie, Kelly Exeter, has a great tip on this. She suggests creating a separate email address, purely for newsletter signups.

Step 3. Get filing! And keep filing

I didn’t fall into the trap of trying to go through each email one by one. That would have required way too much mental gymnastics.

Instead, I made it easier on the brain by sorting the emails by ‘Date Received’ and then by selecting and dumping aaaaall the ancient emails from 2012 to 2017 into my ‘2012-2107 Email Archive Folder’. I figured I could go back and pull out any work emails from this folder later.

Transferring the emails took a while because my computer kept seizing up under the stress of it all. You might need to work in batches of 50 first and then build from there if you can.  

Another tip: don’t neglect your inbox for five years!

Next, I again sorted the inbox by the ‘Sender/From’ column, so I could quickly identify and drag emails by project straight across into their rightful project folders. You might have to use the ‘Subject’ column instead of ‘From’ for this.

At this stage, my inbox was looking positively slim.

Once the work emails were gone, the personal emails from 2018 and 2019 were sorted by date and thrown into the folders I’d labelled by year.

Et voila! I was at Inbox Zero. However, I wasn’t finished just yet

To make sure I hadn’t accidentally tossed work emails into the personal folders, I went into those year labelled folders and sorted them by ‘From’, and I used the Search function as well (just in case), searching by client and project name within those folders only. The work emails I found were housed in their respective project folders, and then I was content.

I cannot tell you what relief this exercise brought me and how much time I’m now saving each day because I’m no longer scrambling to find emails.

So far, I’ve managed to stay on top of my inbox by using the 4D method I learned through Priority Management Australia’s Working Smart with Outlook course. I do this every afternoon.

So, there you have it, folks. A foolproof method for clearing the decks and starting fresh. Are you going to give it a try?

About the author/graduate

Di Challenor is a writer who helps businesses clear the lines of communication. She came to one of our courses so she could see us in action before wordsmithing our website. She found the lessons so useful she implemented them and wrote this here blog!