Does your email inbox stress you out? Does the thought of all the emails building up get you down? Do you worry you might miss an important email because there’s just too many emails to read?
I hear ya.
‘E-mail is the largest single interruption in modern life. In a digital world, creating time therefore hinges on minimizing e-mail’ – Tim Ferris, author of the 4 Hour Work Week
Last week I shared some of my favourite productivity tips for entrepreneurs – and following from that post, I’ll now share how I keep a zero inbox using my ‘ADFD process’.
If you’ve been looking for a way to manage your email and hence, feel more in control of your everyday work , look no further. In this post I’ll share with you the 5 steps to having (and keeping) a zero inbox.
Note: I use Gmail, and although this guide is completely Gmail related, I believe the principles will hold through for any email service.
How to Get a Zero Inbox
Step 1: Set Up Folders
This first step is really just laying the groundwork for what’s coming next. This groundwork involves setting up some folders, 4 to be exact. These folders will serve two purposes:
1 . To archive read messages
2. Store filtered messages for batched reading (more on this later).
I recommend setting up the following email folders:
- Archive (all your read, non deletable emails go here)
- [Name of your business] (Your business specific ones go here)
- Useful Blogs (Interesting emails sent from businesses here e.g. email updates from your favourite blog)
- Meetings (Emails from any meetup groups you’re part of)
Have no more than 4 folders and no subfolders.
Why? Because you just don’t need them- Gmail is obviously powered by the most powerful search engine in the world. If you need to find something, just search for it. Trust me, I tried using dozens of folders and subfolders before, the results:
- How many times I went into to them looking for stuff? Never (I always used ‘search’ as it’s faster).
- How much time did I lose archiving emails into folders every day? Lots.
Step 2: Cut Off
OK here’s the big where you need to be brave. Trust me on this.
All emails after the first 100 (or more than a week old, you choose) you’re going to put into your archive, whether you’ve read them or not.
But what if there’s an email I’ve missed? They’ll get over it – and if it’s that important they’ll email you back. Be brave and just do it. You’ll be glad you did.
Now you’re left with 100 emails.
Step 3: ADFD: Action, Defer, Filter, Delete
Here’s how you manage the 100 that are left. Every email you either: Action, defer, filter or delete (see the video below for ADFD in action).
- Action: If it takes 3 mins or less to respond to it now, do so (and archive the original)
- Defer: If you can’t or don’t have time to action it now. Defer it. I do this by using a great service called followup.cc that will send me my emails on the day I want them.
- Filter: If it’s ‘something I might like to read sometime’ I filter it into my useful blog folder
- Delete: If none of the above, delete it
Here’s ADFD in action:
Use ADFD every day when checking your emails! Like the feeling of a zero inbox? This is how you keep it!
Step 4: Batch
Going forward you’ll be batching two things:
- When you read your email (I recommend twice a day at midday and 4pm). Do not check your emails at any other time! Use ADFD when you do.
- Reading your ‘useful blog’ content – I do this once a week. I spend 1 hour every Tuesday afternoon to go through this content and open anything I see as a ‘must read’. I rarely miss anything.
Step 5: Enjoy
Now you have a zero inbox – how does it feel?