Who dreads opening up their email box?

My email inbox used to be a HUGE source of stress and frustration – mostly because I always had a full inbox and never felt like I had gotten through everything.  I was constantly staring at everything I had to do or read, which makes for a stressful day for sure. The workday would end and I would still feel like I had so much to do, rather than feeling accomplished or productive.

If you treat your inbox like I used to, I used it as my to-do list.  I would keep emails as unread in my inbox as my reminder that I still needed to attend to those items.  It sounds like an easy and simple system, right? Well, it is, except this system can easily get out of control.  Most people receive dozens of emails a day (sometimes hundreds!). If you leave the ones in your inbox that you have to take action on, it can quickly lead to an out of control inbox.

This also contributes to decision fatigue big time.  Decision fatigue happens when you use your inbox as a to-do list because you are having to constantly scan your inbox and make decisions about each email and if you have time to take action yet.  If you keep leaving emails here, you waste so much thought and decision power because you have to process at each scan if you can act now. My brain power is precious – I quickly discovered this was killing my productivity.

So I adopted a new approach – which isn’t really new, but it was new for me and I know can help you, too.  The approach is:

Only open an email once

Simple, right? Here’s how it looks in practice.

Most emails fall into these categories:

  1. Junk
  2. Need to read later but no action needed
  3. Quick response needed or action is less than 2 minutes
  4. Longer response needed or action will take longer than 2 minutes

Here’s how I tackle each type.

1. Junk Emails

This one is easy – DELETE!  Even if it’s a great coupon for a store I will go to, I still hit delete and it’s out of my inbox.  If I end up at the store later and need it, it can still be retrieved from my trash for 30 days (usually how long a coupon is good for anyway).  I also unsubscribe from lists as much as I can.

2. Need to Read Later, But No Action Needed Emails

This is the kind of email that used to drown my inbox.  I love reading articles from the different design lists I’m on.  It’s a great way to learn more about web design, small business ownership, or even for my personal life like parenting or relationships.  When I would receive these types of newsletters and I didn’t have time to read them just then, I would leave them in my inbox. Well, you don’t have to do that for very long and pretty soon my inbox was full of things wanted to read, but couldn’t read right now.

Enter Instapaper

This is a free service that lets you bookmark and saves anything you want to read later.  You can use this for articles you find online, too, but I just use the email feature. When you sign up for Instapaper, you get a customized email address for your account.  When you are checking email and come across a great newsletter you want to read later, simply forward that email to your Instapaper email, and it’s there in your Instapaper account.

Then, when I have downtime, I use the Instapaper app on my phone to catch up on those articles that I sent there from my inbox.  This is way more productive time on my phone than social media or Pinterest. I get those high-value emails out of my inbox and into an app that I will actually look at when I have time.

To get your personalized email address from Instapaper, first, create your free account, then follow this link: https://www.instapaper.com/save/email

Then when you’re checking email and you receive an article you really want to read but can’t right now, forward to Instapaper.  This gets it out of your inbox and in a place you know you can easily refer to later and read when you have time.

3. Quick Response or Action Takes Less than 2 Minutes Emails

This is a simple step, too – just do it.  I sometimes want to wait for the perfect words or response to say to someone, when really I just need to respond.  If writing back real quick or performing the task the email needs will take less than 2 minutes, I just have to do it.  Knowing that I am ultimately saving brain power and saving myself from more decisions later is usually all the motivation I need to do it.  And if I know I don’t even have time for a quick reply or complete a quick task, I don’t open my email inbox. This saves me from looking at an email twice.  Remember, the system is “only open an email once.”

4. Longer Response Needed or Action Takes More than 2 Minutes Emails

These types of emails would also overtake my inbox.  These are the emails that really were my “to-dos”, but by just keeping them in my inbox, I could never easily see what was a priority and what tasks could wait until later.  I also was constantly scanning and deciding if now was the time to do this email or not. Wasting brain power – wasting time.

Enter another life-changing tool – Asana

Now this tool alone could fill a whole blog post.  There are countless ways to use Asana and make yourself more productive.  I am just going to show you how I use Asana to get to Inbox Zero.

First, sign up for Asana – it’s free!  I have been using the free plan for a couple of years and have not needed any of the premium features.  Once you’ve signed up for Asana, for Gmail or GSuite users, go here and get the Asana add-on.  If you do not have Gmail or GSuite for email, your Asana account has it’s own email address that you will forward these task emails to.  In Asana, click on your profile photo, go to My Profile Settings > Email Forwarding and you will see the email address to forward all your longer task emails.

Now, when I check email and receive one that requires a lengthy response or action, I forward it to Asana.  The other KEY PIECE in this process is I assign when I’m going to do this task or write the response by assigning it a due date and due time.  If you don’t do this, your Asana task list quickly turns into another never-ending to-do list you are constantly scanning. But if everything is assigned to a certain date and time, I know I won’t forget it and I know I schedule the priority items appropriately.

To leave my office for the day with ZERO EMAILS in my inbox is an amazing feeling.  If you start using this process for each type of email I promise you can get there too.  Just remember, only open an email once.  When you open it, you can quickly figure out which category it falls into, and then proceed with the steps I layout above.

Who’s ready to be part of the Inbox Zero club?  What questions do you have?