Hello, I’m Michael Sliwinski, founder of Nozbe - to-do app for business owners and their teams. I write essays, books, work on projects and I podcast for you using #iPadOnly in #NoOffice as I believe that work is not a place you go to, it’s a thing you do. More…

5 tricks to keeping your email inbox at zero


Many busy folks have problems with email these days. Some announce email bankruptcy. I’ve always managed to have my email inbox very close to zero. I’ve blogged about email before and even recorded a few video shows, too. But for the last few weeks I’ve finally managed to keep email inbox at zero consistently every single day. Here’s how:

5 tricks to keeping your email inbox at zero

1. Keep the emails short and stop being so polite

I use to treat emails with respect. With the whole structure like “Hello, Best Regards, etc.” - now I don’t think about this anymore. I found out that people appreciated more a short response earlier… than a long and pretty one a lot later… if ever.

Leo Babauta wrote about it in his post and he said his emails are now max 5 sentences long.

I still like the formal structure of the email so I use Typinator on my Mac and when I write “brm” it converts to “Best regards, - Michael” (and many similar abbreviations) - so my emails are both short and pretty :-)

2. Apply the 2-minute rule

If I can reply to an email shortly in just 2 minutes, I do it right away… and what I found out is that most of the emails can be replied like this. So combine this rule with the one before. Keep it short, quick and reply as soon as you can.

3. Just one folder - “Reply”

I just use one folder in my email program (the cool new in Mac OSX Lion) and it’s “Reply” and it stores the messages I need to devote more time to.

I try to keep this folder really small and zero it out at the end of the day. As only very few messages go there, it’s not really hard to schedule half an hour at the end of the day to zero it out.

4. Forward emails to your task/project system

I forward my actionable emails to Nozbe and convert them to tasks with a comment containing email content (it’s really easy to do and there is even an action script for it).

This way the email messages are zeroed out and I’ll reply later when the time comes to take action. It’s really inefficient to keep emails as “to-do reminders” in the inbox.

5. Schedule your email time, turn off notifications

I don’t use Email notifications. I even removed the “unread” badge from my client. I go to email when I choose to do email (and now with full-screen apps in Lion it’s even cooler). I do email 2-3 times a day. That’s it. I try to never start a day with my email. Only get to it when I’ve already done 2-3 hours of productive work.

That’s it. These easy techniques helped me keep my inbox at zero and keep my mind sane.

What are your tricks in dealing with email? How do you manage the emails coming in?