Inbox Zero is a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty -- or almost empty -- at all times.
Inbox Zero was developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann. According to Mann, the zero is not a reference to the number of messages in an inbox; it is "the amount of time an employee's brain is in his inbox." Mann's point is that time and attention are finite and when an inbox is confused with a "to do" list, productivity suffers.
Mann identifies five possible actions to take for each message: delete, delegate, respond, defer and do.
Here are some of Mann's tips for effective email management:
- Don't leave the email client open.
- Process email periodically throughout the day, perhaps at the top of each hour.
- First delete or archive as many new messages as possible.
- Then forward what can be best answered by someone else.
- Immediately respond to any new messages that can be answered in two minutes or less.
- Move new messages that require more than two minutes to answer -- and messages that can be answered later -- to a separate "requires response" folder.
- Set aside time each day to respond to email in the "requires response" folder or chip away at mail in this folder throughout the day.
Merlin Mann introduces the inbox zero approach in a Google Tech Talk: