Why Inbox 0 is a Determining Success Factor

Recently, I noticed almost every successful manager, C-level exec and CEO I’ve met* had an overlooked common characteristic: clean inboxes. Whether they were high level decision makers in Fortune 50s or start-ups, their emails were always organized. So I started aiming for constant Inbox 0, as I’m one of those crazies who emulates behavioral patterns of people I respect.

Well, whaddya know? I think it worked. I started noticing fundamental thinking patterns changing.
My brain now naturally:

organizes — most email programs have filters, folders, labels and other misc. tools to assist with organization. Since I constantly think of ways to keep my inboxes organized, I trained my brain to framework problems with the end goal in mind. i.e., how do I manage massive email loads (work-flow) for constant and consistent tidy inboxes (end-goal).

prioritizes efficiently — everyone has different prioritization methods when it comes to email. I’ve found that when I do not reply right when I read the mail, the probability of not responding is almost 99.9999999999991%.

So I figured out a system. If the email needs a response, I reply right away. If the email is a task, I label it as a To-Do (with a fire engine red label so the email is right in. my. face.) and keep it in my inbox. All emails I do not respond to, are immediately deleted/archived.

Sounds like a lot of effort, but as soon as this work-flow became routine, I do the above every time new mail comes in while working on other things. If something urgent comes up or I am interrupted, the current task at hand is in my inbox as an incomplete To-Do. Multi-tasking at its finest? Naaaah. It’s simply habit that came to be, as the end goal (tidy inbox) is always in the back of my mind. It also helps my email programs are off the hook: Gmail, Sparrow and the number one email client used the most: iPhone.

Now, my brain automatically prioritizes most efficient ways to achieve goals even outside of email.

focuses on what I will do vs. what I won’t do — we all strive to be efficient, responsible, responsive and reliable. My daily goal of inbox zero forces prioritization in order to be efficient, responsible, responsive and reliable. The one thing I found through many many (and I mean A LOT) of mistakes, failures and OOPSIES is: honesty is a must. The countless number of trials and errors of:
– taking on too much
– inability to delegate
– not knowing what I will realistically accomplish and what I can not
have taught me the importance of knowing myself, realistic time/workload management and how to be and stay the best I can always be.

The above may sound a bit hokey, but it just so happens to mirror characteristics HBR and best selling biz management books says are success factors. And look! Those skills also resemble Bill Gates’ fundamental framework – who, you know, is kinda sorta successful.

So unless you’re a journalist or spammer, Inbox 0 is an attainable daily goal.
Try it. I dare you.

Suggested reading: “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” – David Allen (Over drinks, a CEO friend of mine who I respect and adore told me in passing about GTD. I downloaded and read a bit – it’s pretty amazing. Good luck!

*Met either in passing or formally introduced. This is informal research, but the way I’ve gathered the information:
– peek at their phone screens. Since I’ve had almost every phone on the market, I can determine within two seconds if they have a lot of email or less than double digits
– ask. This may sound stupid, but I have close to zero fear (shame?) and will ask almost anything within the parameters of common sense, common courtesy that has legitimate reasoning…in the utmost polite way possible, of course
– ask their assistants / EAs or people around them.
– if all else fails, I Google. Who would’ve thought Ron Conway answers emails in 2 minutes. I can’t even begin to imagine how many emails the man gets in a day but more so, think about how it is he is able to respond in 2 minutes. Highly doubt that was a one time occurrence, and he has a method of organizing and prioritizing email.

3 thoughts on “Why Inbox 0 is a Determining Success Factor

  1. I’m curious, are you using web-based e-mail or an e-mail app (Outlook, Mac Mail, Entourage, etc.etc.). I kind of get the sense you might be using GMail, but I hate to make assumptions.

    I do have to agree that if I don’t reply then, it’ll be days (if ever) that I’ll reply. I have started to “star” my messages for follow up, but I like your idea of the bright red tags for an in.your.face approach.

    I do know when I label/archive e-mail, I’ll never look at it again, unless it shows up in search results.

    1. Hi Barry!

      I use Gmail, Sparrow and my iPhone.
      Have used Outlook (for a long time), mail.app and Entourage but the three listed first makes managing the easiest (for me). I like Sparrow because it has the same shortcut keys as Gmail.

      Though frankly, I end up defaulting to Gmail’s web interface for organizing – nothing beats their search and iPhone for responding. As for labeling/archiving, I heavily filter (skip inbox auto-archive, always archive messages from specific senders, etc.) and again – rely on search (Boolean ftw!)

      The initial organization may take a few hours but once that’s out of your way, you’ll save hours on end thanks to a tidy inbox. Plus, your brain starts processing non email related tasks in a more orderly, organized manner -at least in my experience – as the end-goal is the constant fire under my ass!

      Good luck and thanks for the comment,

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