How to Get to “Inbox Zero”

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I was recently on an email thread with the CIC General Managers (Kim Plank of CIC St. Louis, Natalia Martinez of CIC Miami, and Sarah Morin of CIC in Cambridge and Boston) and the question was raised: What are your tips and tricks for getting as close as possible to “inbox zero”?

As some of my teammates know, I’m one of those annoying types. I pride myself on being prompt to respond (when it’s warranted) and try to rarely let things fall through the cracks, even at the busiest of times. To me, email is a tool – like Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint, and you can learn how to be better at it.

But with 3.000 unread emails in your inbox, that can seem impossible. Here were some of the tips from our exchange:

1.) Always take an action: Do you find yourself opening and closing, or rereading then marking unread over and over again? One of the best tips I ever learned for managing my inbox is that opening an email is a commitment to take one of five actions: delete it, delegate it, reply to it, defer it, or take a more substantial action. If you’re not committed to doing this, don’t bother opening your emails at that time. Wait until you are ready to process your emails, and then dive in.

2.) Use email tools: Many CIC-ers are big fans of Boomerang (for when you defer) and Gmail’s archive and search is a godsend. Use Doodle to cut down on “Are you free on Tuesday at 2pm?”-type notes. Also, use filters and have emails that are more standard notifications skip you inbox. Then set up a calendar reminder to check it once a week.

3.) Get your team to help: Email is not always the best communication cool. For urgent items, the CIC Rotterdam team has a WhatsApp group. For quick questions, we use Gchat or Slack. And for each teammate I manage, I ask that they keep a running list of the non-urgent, bigger picture items to cover during our in-person check ins.

Lastly – experiment. Play around with what works for you and what doesn’t. Hopefully these tips can help cut back on the clutter and get you closer to the mythical “inbox zero.”