Email Productivity

Zero message inbox method

Go for Zero!

“Are you overwhelmed by your emails? Do you feel like you are missing something but you can’t remember what? Do you miss meetings? Are you late to your own meeting?”

These might be considered “normal” in this tech age…but it doesn’t have to be that way. You CAN become organized and productive in this ever-changing world.

Training on Microsoft Outlook (will work for any email client) will include these topics

  • 1 minute rule, Zero message inbox
  • Identify urgency and prioritize your time
  • Create folders to sort through the clutter
  • Flag an email for when you have time later
  • Using Categories
  • Follow the Rules
  • Unsubscribe
  • Spam
  • Archive
  • To whom do I send it?
  • Reply and Forward
  • Use Instant Message, Texting and Email effectively.
  • When to pick up the phone and call

If you learn a few tips and tricks, this article will be worth it for you.

If you are overwhelmed by emails and think you are alone, we will show you that you are not.

“Normal” can’t keep up with their Inbox, but you can learn how to be effective.

Zero message inbox method. Clear the clutter! Work on what is important! Set your own urgency!

How do I get to 0 messages in my inbox?

628 unread emails

Each of us juggle many things every day. How do you juggle? 3 simple tricks…

  1. A slight flick of the wrist.
  2. Know what is coming.
  3. Know where it is going.

We try to multi-task and end up dropping the balls. The human brain can only do 2 things well excluding involuntary functions. The more we try to do the less effective we are… Multi-tasking is a myth!

Clutter makes it harder to find things and it distracts us from the important things. Clutter can be neat but it is still clutter.

I present the 1 minute rule!

Every email that come to your inbox should be processed with the 1 minute rule.

Each new message should be read and identified how much time it takes to process it. Anything over 1 minute should be flagged and placed in a folder to handle later. Anything under 1 minute should be processed immediately and filed away in storage folder.

The following questions enter our mind as we decide.

  • Can I get it done right now?
  • Do I need information from someone else?
  • Is there a task here?
  • Do I accept?
  • Should someone else be informed instead
  • Is this important or urgent or can it wait until later?

Establishing importance and urgency helps us to know that we are working on items with highest priority.

I break it down into 4 categories:

A. Today
B. Completed this week
C. Completed this month
D. Completed this quarter

Urgency and importance can change depending on how we manage our tasks. Once we are late, that determination is taken out of our hands.

Changing priorities does not mean ignoring the task…we need to know how to recall it at the proper time.

Our urgency is set by a variety of people: customer, supervisor, goals, colleagues, interests, etc.

First step in organizing your email inbox…create Folders I have thought about this many times….I would present that you need a minimum of 2 folders. I have many more than that but through the writing of these articles, I have attempted to reduce the amount.

The minimum amount would be 2… open and closed.

Otherwise, you could create a more complex folder system that would be by customer, project, person, account, etc. If you do not have any folders and you have more than 2 emails, your inbox is already cluttered!

Second step, using flags. Flags are to get your attention. What is the difference between flags and task? In Outlook, they appear the same in the Task bar but they are not.

  • Flags are for emails
  • Tasks are for items that are outside of your email.

You can put reminders on Flags and Tasks in Outlook. Remember, A, B, C, or D?

I have a strong caution against using unread versus flag. All unread message whether spam, important or new are treated the same if you read an email and then mark it unread so you can reference it in the future. If you use multiple devices you will further complicate this. Once again…strong caution against using unread as a method to remember that you have a task in the future to handle.

Categories… canned responses or labels for email. If you need multiple stages or color coding the stage, you can use categories.

Rules. Create rules for repeatable actions to help clear the clutter. If you already know what folder it goes into because it goes there every time. Create a rule to auto process it. Rules are very easy to create and there are many pre-loaded options.

Unsubscribe. This option is given on many spam, unwanted, mass, or solicitation emails. Other options are available, you can unsubscribe to certain lists, reduce the frequency or take you name off altogether. Do it right away. If you didn’t sign up, it is Spam to you!

Spam. Be vigilant against spam. An email that is unsolicited and sent in bulk as defined in CAN-SPAM Act.

Unsolicited doesn’t mean spam…Think… fraud alert from your credit card company. You didn’t ask then to send it but you are glad if they caught fraudulent activity.

Bulk doesn’t mean spam…Think… newsletter from a club or organization.

Do not just delete. Send it to your spam folder and your organization’s spam program so you and your company get future benefit. Once again… you are trying to get to 0 messages in your inbox. Stop Spam to reduce the clutter!

Archive. Another tool to reduce clutter is auto-archive or systematically run it yourself. This puts your email in storage but not immediate retrieval. This helps your searches to remain quick and meaningful. This is especially helpful if you use multiple devices or switch devices and you want to sync all active folders. Keeping your storage under limits or low helps with speed.

TO: CC: BCC:  You have been emailing people for as long as you remember. You don’t need me to tell you how to decide who gets your email… Great! This is only review for you. However, it is evident that not everyone knows this so we are going to go over it anyway.

To: (directly) I am talking to you!

Typically, you are expecting an answer from this person. You call them by name.

CC: Carbon Copy (can overhear) I don’t care if they are listening!

Typically, not expecting an answer but they can if they can help or need to know the information.

BCC: Blind carbon copy (incognito) Sh! Don’t let them know you can hear!

Include people you don’t want to reply or you don’t want others to know they are included. For me, most often it is to eliminate a forward.

Note: it is perfectly fine to drop people off and add people to a conversation. One caution… if someone pulled you aside to tell you something privately, be considerate before adding it back into the distribution list.

This leads us into the next part, How and when do I reply? Do I send it to everyone? When do I use forward?


Reply: Consider your audience. Not every comment needs a comment in response. “Thank you”, “Ok”, “Got it”, “Will do”…create clutter and only creates more filing work for everyone’s inbox.

If there is a task or question included in the email, please acknowledge the task or answer the question. Sending an answer to an email is good communication. When 3 questions are asked, answer 3 questions. I realize not every question deserves an answer and I have no issue with thoughtfully ignoring a question. However, be considerate and thorough before answering the first one and missing the rest.


Unless you have a private comment, reply to the whole distribution list. This is the greatest chance that your organization will miss deadlines and tasks because others will think someone else is handling it or 2 people will work on the same task. I would also refer you back to who the email is sent to. That is who should answer it, at least, to re-assign to the correct person.


An email conversation can be forwarded once it is complete or if part of your team needs to be aware of the email. Any files that are attached will be automatically included with a forward but not with a Reply. An email could also be forwarded if they sent it to the wrong person.

Email vs texting…which? 

Instant message programs or texting are great communication alternative to email to eliminate clutter in your inbox. When should we use IM?

Many IM programs will tell if someone is “ONLINE”. Use IM when you need an immediate answer or want to know if someone is available. It is for quick, fast, short, easy comments. It is for chatter, pleasantries, emoticons…what I call “consumables”. No one cares if you never see it again. No assignment, flag, or need for future reference. You don’t need to delete it or put it in spam.

When do you need to send an email? basically the opposite of the above… attach a file, create an event, save for later, place it in a folder, reminder, flag, tasks, forward it on.

Lastly, I want to share some important email etiquette tips.

After the 3rd email or text about the same issue…Pick up the phone!

If it escalates and involves emotion…Pick up the phone!

Phone calls are a second to “face to face” but it is better than hiding behind a device.


We can handle 2 things at a time. 2 email addresses, 2 devices. Multi-tasking is a myth. We juggle many things every day. You need a slight flick of the wrist. Know what is coming. Know where it is going and Repeat. You know where it is because you put it there.

Learn to juggle

Use the 1 minute rule

Use flags

Setup folders

and Clear your clutter

Go for Zero!

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