Chasing Inbox Zero

Ian Hopkinson - Chasing Inbox Zero

I’m not a naturally organised person. I enjoy order when it’s there in front of me, when I’ve finally achieved it. I appreciate the freedom of clarity and space, but my mind also craves creativity and the messy wilderness from which come some of my best ideas.

I founded a digital company. Yep, I signed up for this, so I’d better embrace some useful ways to manage the 0’s and 1’s.

The inbox, it seems, needs a special approach and this year I’d say I have achieved Inbox Zero status about four times. This month is one of them. Now Inbox Zero is not an end goal, it’s a state of mind. And with all the myriads of expert opinions floating around on this subject, the answer is pretty simple:


What’s scheduled and what’s intrusive?

What’s important right now and what can wait?

The concept of Inbox Zero was introduced by writer and speaker Merlin Mann. According to Mann, the zero is not a reference to the number of messages in an inbox; it is “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.” Mann’s point is that time and attention are finite and when an inbox is confused with a “to do” list, productivity wanes.

Mann identifies five possible actions to take for each message:

delete, delegate, respond, defer and do.

Here are some of Mann’s tips for effective email management:

  • Only have your email client open when necessary.
  • Process email periodically throughout the day, perhaps at the top of each hour.
  • First delete or archive as many new messages as possible.
  • Then forward on messages to the people who are in a better position to respond. (I will often loop the appropriate party in via a cc or reply-to just to properly nurture the right outcome)
  • Quickly respond to new messages that can be answered in two minutes or less
  • New messages that require more than two minutes to answer and messages that can be answered later should be moved to a separate “requires response” folder.
  • Set aside time each day to respond to email in the “requires response” folder or chip away at mail in this folder throughout the day.

To me, as a business owner, the solution is a larger one. These habits might keep things at bay but the key question to ask yourself is

what are your key areas of focus for this year, month, week, and today?

Does your incoming and outgoing inbox traffic align with your personal goals and the goals of the overall business? Because if not, you’re actually swimming in a sea of futile bullshit.

It’s taken me awhile to realise that my inbox is a reflection of my focus. And without focus we do struggle to grow as individuals but also as leaders of growing businesses.

Ian Hopkinson is the original “mad scientist” – a digital creative who is passionate about the online market place and its potential to enable businesses to compete on a global stage. He is the Founder & Head of Results at Mad Scientist Digital.

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