I just spent the last two weeks traveling across the country, and back, by car. With my husband and dog in tow, we saw the world’s largest rocking chair, the alleged birthplace of James T. Kirk, and most importantly, our son and his fiancee. It was a busy, fun vacation.
When you have your own business, or have people counting on you, it’s pretty tough to put up one of those “Annette Lang will be on vacation until….” messages without feeling guilty, panicky, or both. On the other hand, I needed a break from the everyday.
So I decided that this would be a great time to try out the idea of a Zero Based Inbox. Here’s how I did it.
1 – First of all, I looked through my emails from the past two weeks, deleting anything I didn’t need. I then archived everything prior to that.
What?? Get rid of all of those emails?? Nope! Archiving just gets them out of your inbox, into some storage room for emails you might need one day but probably don’t. It’s like keeping those linens that you never use-just in case a family of eight takes up residence with you, you’re ready! But until then, those sheets and towels are out of sight.
2 – I then made three labels (I use Gmail, I believe Outlook has similar capabilities): Action, Info, and Review. You could choose whatever would work for you. Whenever I read my emails, each one went into one of those labeled spaces.
My inbox? Empty.
The whole idea is to stop using your inbox as a storage area. Seeing that inbox “unread” number can be so intimidating, and can make even the strongest among us click out of that email tab, and call it a day.
3 – I checked my email a bunch of times during the day. By checking, I mean looking at the email, and either deleting/archiving it or labeling it with one of my three labels. I found a really nice app called Triage that enabled me to quickly go through my emails, and either archive or leave in the inbox. I’d then have a lot less to deal with to zero out my Inbox.
I saw myself starting to overthink the best label for each email, and so I gave myself no more than 30 seconds to classify an email. If, when I’m reviewing them, I find I put it into the wrong sort, I can always move it.
4 – I then designated a couple of times a day to go through my three labeled areas. Action was looked at, but because I was on vacation, I didn’t really act on any of the emails in there, other than to respond to a couple, letting the sender know I’d get back to them when I got back.
Review was reserved for emails I needed to really focus on to read. They might have links to articles I’d find useful, or I might not be sure how to proceed. So I’ll review, or read them again.
And finally, Info is for just that. It includes zoom links for meetings (which I put on my calendar and then delete), and other information.
And that’s it!
Guess what? Every time I see that empty inbox, I get a little zing of dopamine. Which is a whole lot better than the thud of “Ugh, I have so many emails.”
Not to mention that anticipating getting that little sparkly feeling causes me to check my email regularly, instead of avoiding it. And setting up specific times on my calendar to get into greater detail with my email has not only helped me to do so, but has also enabled me to eliminate getting bogged down in my emails when I need to be doing something else.
Now that I’m back from my trip, I’m getting back into my normal routine. But my Zero Based Inbox is one souvenir from my trip that I am going to keep.