Do’s and Don'ts for getting to Inbox Zero in 2019

Scott White
January 07, 2019

Email is still the most ubiquitous form of business communication. In fact, as more tools (chat, task management, customer support) come onto the market, the amount of email we get continues to increase. Having a full inbox is like having debt hanging around in your mind. It looms, ceaselessly mounts, and needs to be cleared out. Just like debt, if possible, it’s best to clear your inbox entirely.

Managing your email is also kind of like working out. It’s about maintaining good habits, avoiding bad habits, and setting aside time to give it your full attention.

Below are our Do’s and Don’ts for getting to Inbox Zero in 2019:


1. Pin and archive

The first step to getting to Inbox Zero is to focus only on the important stuff, and archive everything else. A simple way to think about whether an email is worth staying in your inbox is to ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do I need to respond to this message?
  2. Am I waiting for a response on this message?
  3. Does this email contain some piece of knowledge that will help me do my job?

If the answer is yes to any of those three questions, pin (or star) the email. If you answered no to all three questions, archive it immediately.

2. Triage and snooze

Once you’ve pinned and archived, you’ve now got the emails you need to handle. You have emails you need to respond to, emails that you’re waiting for a response to, and emails that may provide some useful context.

You need to reply:

If you need to respond to an email that’s now in your pinned list, ask yourself a quick question: Is this a quick response, or do I need to think about this before I reply? If it’s a quick message, respond right now. Don’t procrastinate or leave it polluting your inbox. Just shoot off a quick response. Whoever is reading it probably doesn’t want to read a long email anyway.

If it’s a long message, schedule a block of time on your calendar where you will respond to your harder emails. Snooze the email until this calendar block, during which you’ll respond.

You’re awaiting a reply:

If you’re waiting for someone to reply to an email, snooze the email until the time you’d be expecting a response, or ping that person if that time has already lapsed.

3. Handle email in chunks

As the number of tools and applications that we use in the workplace grows, it’s easy to drown in notifications, and break your concentration switching between tools.

If you allow yourself to answer emails as they come in, you’ll pay the cost of context-switching every time. Research suggests that you are 40% less productive when you interrupt a task with another task (reading or responding to an email).

A few simple ways to handle email in chunks:

  • If you commute on a train, use your commute to pin and archive
  • Use your first 10 minutes in the office, or lunch, to triage and snooze
  • Schedule discrete chunks of time on your calendar to respond to the longer emails you’ve triaged

4. Turn on “do-not-disturb” mode at work

As we’ve already discussed, context-switching is a huge hinderance to productivity. If you’ve archived the stuff that doesn’t matter, triaged the rest, and have blocked off time to handle your email in chunks, don’t let your mobile phone break your concentration by sending you notifications. Either turn off mobile notifications while at work, or turn on do-not-disturb mode. If someone desperately needs your response, they’ll call you or find you.

5. Filter and unsubscribe ruthlessly

If you’re trying to maintain Inbox Zero at work, set up filters for all promos and social emails. You don’t need to respond to them, you’re not awaiting a response, and they’re probably not helpful for your job.

Putting it all together

Inbox management flow chart


1. DON’T snooze more than once

Just like getting a good night’s sleep, you should never snooze too many times. Only snooze when you’re awaiting a reply, or setting aside a specific chunk of time to reply to the email. Any more than that, and you’re probably just procrastinating.

2. DON’T over-organize

While in theory having all of your emails categorized perfectly sounds great, navigating the complex maze of folders and tags necessary to do so is probably not worth it. Every touch or tag you place on each email makes zero-ing out your inbox exponentially more difficult.

3. DON’T hold on to super old emails

If you haven’t responded in 30 days, you’re probably not responding. Either snooze the email to a time when you plan to actually respond, or archive the email.

Want to put this into practice? Monolist can help

We built Monolist to help you manage the seemingly-never-ending list of tasks you get from across all the tools you use at work, including email. Part of that means helping you get to Inbox Zero. Not just for your email inbox, but for all of your tools. We think of it as Global Inbox Zero.

Using Monolist to get to Global Inbox Zero:

  • Sync your tasks from all of your tools, whether it’s comments in a doc you need to respond to, or tasks you’ve been assigned in a different app.
  • Pin your tasks and emails that are important, so they stay at the top of your inbox.
  • Snooze tasks or emails that you’ll handle or respond to later.
  • Receive intelligent reminders when it looks like you need to follow up with someone, whether it’s an email, overdue task, or a Slack message.

Learn more about Monolist or request access.

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