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How to Achieve Inbox Zero – Email Productivity Hacks

I’ve always seen email as kind of like a Hydra, answer one. – Two more shall take its place. – And while this is definitely been my personal experience with email, I know that I am by no means alone in this matter, especially given that there’s data out there to show the average knowledge worker spends about 28% of their work week on. – Email. – And that is absolutely ridiculous. So today I wanna share some of the tips and tactics that I’ve learned over the past few years for making email a less stressful and less time consuming part of my life. Now, I gotta put this out there right up front, I am by no means an email expert and I know you can probably find some other productivity gurus out there with crazy DTD inspired inbox zero workflows that they get done at six a.m.

Every single morning before doing their morning yoga coffee mediation, but I have at least been able to tame my emails, so to speak, and it’s been a lot less stressful in the past few years than it used to be when I was a little bit earlier on in my entrepreneurial career. So, whether you’re a student or you’re a professional being buried in emails from your boss or you’re an entrepreneur like me, hopefully some of the tips I’m gonna share in this video will help you tame your inbox as well. And just to cover our bases, we’ve gotta start with the obvious one, archive messages or delete them if you don’t need them anymore. Don’t treat your inbox as an archive. That should be something separate and should be representing only things that you need to take action on. Otherwise the archive or the trash should be where emails go. All right, with that pretty simple tip out of the way, let’s move on to our first big tip.

Don’t use your inbox as a task manager. And this is crucial, but I know it’s also very hard to do and a lot of us tend to do this. We see emails in our inbox, we know we have to respond to them, but to respond to them, we have to do like 18 other things. There’s this whole process and as a result, the inbox tends to pile up. In fact, there are even email forgiveness days out there for people who have just let emails fester for days, weeks, or even months since they just haven’t had the time to get all the preliminary or dependent steps done first. But there is indeed a better way.

You do not have to use your email inbox as a task list because that is what a task manager is for. So when you see emails in your inbox that you have to take action on, whether it be responding or actually doing something, follow these steps, first and foremost, I think it’s a pretty smart idea to dedicate a specific time of day to email processing, and unless email notifications are incredibly important to you, unless you’re like Elon Musk or something, take those notifications off of your phone. Dedicate one part of the day for email and have the rest it dedicated to work or, you know, actually doing things that you wanna do. So once you have that preplanned specific time of the day set for processing email and that time rolls around, sit down at your computer or your phone and first I think it’s a good idea to get rid of any emails that really don’t need any action from you, basically just to clear out the junk. Now when it comes to doing this part, a lot of people get stuck on the question of whether to archive or delete their emails.

And honestly this is kind of a moot point these days since most email programs give you a ton of space for storing emails, but I follow a simple general rule. If I think that I ever might need that email’s information in the future, then I archive it. Otherwise, I delete it. And for the emails that you do decide to delete, it’s likely that some of those or maybe even most of them are newsletters or marketing messages and I know because I receive a ton of these every single day and because I even send some out every Sunday with my newsletter. Now with these kind of messages in particular the Hydra metaphor is especially apt because you know that even if you delete the one you’re looking at right now, there’s gonna be two more coming this week no matter what you do, unless you go down to the bottom of that email and start hitting that unsubscribe link. So don’t just delete emails if you know they’re gonna be coming in the future. Start unsubscribing from marketing messages and newsletters that no longer give you any value.

And yes, that does include my newsletter. If you’re not getting value from the emails that I send you, then please get me out of your inbox. For one, I actually pay per subscriber on my Mailchimp plan, and two, if I’m not providing you enough value, then I don’t deserve to be in your inbox anyway. And that’s how every single marketer should think. Anyway, moving on to emails that you do actually have to take action on. There’s kinda two different types of email here. First type of email is the kind that you can easily take the action on within five minutes or less, and if you find an email like that, go ahead and process it, don’t get it in your task manager, just reply to it or take action on it and get in onto the archive.

That just leaves us with the second type of email, the type of email that tends to fester in your inbox for weeks or months because it’s got 27 different steps to dependencies and you’ve also got work to do and video games to play, why should you spend your time on that? Well, maybe you don’t have time to spend your time on that right now, but it shouldn’t sit in your inbox. Instead, get the details into your task manager. Remember, your task manager and your calendar and your note-taking system, these are all parts of the system that should hold pieces of data that you need to refer back to in the future and in some cases, remind you of actions you need to take.

Your email is a communications medium. It’s not part of that action oriented system, so don’t treat it like one. Now when it comes to actually implementing this, you can, of course, just copy the details of an email to your to-do list and make that a task and then remember to go find the email later if it needs a reply. But a lot of task managers these days have more elegant options for processing emails. For example, Todoist actually lets you copy an email address for each project in your task list and then you can email tasks into it. Or you can actually install their Chrome extension which puts a little mini Todoist in the bottom of your Gmail area so you can actually add a task as an email. And one thing I like about Todoist in particular is when you add an email as a task, it actually links right back to the email so you don’t even have to go into Gmail and find it.

Regardless of how you it, once you have an email in your task manager, then the process for dealing with it is exactly the same, give it a due date, give it labels if you want, get it done when it needs to be done, and then if that email needs a reply, then reply and consider that checked off your task list. Bit tip number two, use tags and search harmoniously. Now there was a time back in college where I dutifully tagged every single message that came in and I had this beautifully organized hierarchical task structure in Gmail that I was so proud of and I thought this is crucial because if I ever need to find a piece of information, I know where to find it.

It’s almost like having a folder structure, right? But then I realized something that should have been obvious in retrospect. Gmail is built on Google, and Google is the world’s best search engine, so for the most part, I can just search for emails if I need to find them after I’ve archived them. So now I use tags or labels and search in tandem. I’ve very selective about which messages I actually tag since tagging messages does take time, and I’d rather be playing video games. Plus, again, most messages can be found just by searching. So, for the most part, if I’m gonna keep a message after processing it, I just hit the archive button.

But there are certain cases where I do still use tags. For example, the receipts for a lot of expenses in my business often come to my email. Now with paper ones, I tend to digitize them and get them into Evernote, but with the email ones, I just give them the tag receipt. I’ve chosen to keep tags in this particular case because a lot of times I’m looking for a particular receipt when I’m going through my reconciliations for accounting at the end of the month and I often don’t know exactly what to search for so I just wanna make sure that I have a list that I can look at that lists every single digital expense that I’ve ever had in my business just in case there is ever an audit in the future or some other reason I need to see all of those receipts.

Another example case would be newsletters that I don’t wanna unsubscribe from but don’t necessarily wanna see and these cases I actually have a filter, which we’re gonna talk about in a few seconds, that just gives those emails a newsletter tag and then auto-archives them. That way if I ever wanna go through those emails and see them, like if I’m looking for headline inspiration, for example, I can see them all in one list. But they never grab my attention when they come in because I don’t want them to do that at that time. All right, big tip number three, which I kind of alluded to just a few seconds ago. Filters are your friend. In most email programs, there are filters you can set up which basically do things automatically for you.

So to go back to the previous example, every time a newsletter comes in that has a specific email address or a specific type of headline, I have a rule in my email program that will automatically archive it so I never see it and it gives it the correct tag as well. I’ve also got filters set up that will automatically delete messages from certain addresses or from certain people, like marketers who think that spamming me five times is actually gonna get a response. And lastly, my most important and useful filter is a filter for all my old email addresses that ensure that nothing in those email inboxes can ever go to spam. Now the reason I have this filter set up on all my old inboxes is that a few years ago I set up forwarding rules to forward everything from those inboxes to one big main Gmail inbox. Now this ensured that I didn’t have to go check a zillion different email inboxes just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. It was all coming in to one place. Except for in certain occasions I would notice that important emails that were sent to one of those old email addresses hit the spam filter and because I never logged in to look at those inboxes, I never noticed it.

So once I realized that this was happening, I set up filters to make sure that nothing could go to spam over there and this wasn’t really a big problem since I could trust the spam filtering in my main inbox to catch all the junk. That brings us to big tip number four, which is to use a separate email for logins than the one that you use for correspondence, for talking with people on the internet. Now this is more of a security tip than an organizational tip, but I still think it’s really important to do. The email address that you use to chat with people on the internet is basically public knowledge. Every single person you’ve given it out to and possibly the entire internet if you posted it somewhere publicly knows this email address.

Now, unfortunately, the internet has developed in such a way that your email address is also used as a login credential for most websites. Additionally, it’s the place where password resets go. So if anyone ever got access to your email, they would be able to send password resets and basically hack your entire life. And even if they can’t do that, they at least know one of the two keys needed to log in to your bank or your Final Fantasy FanFiction forum account or any other crucial site that you don’t want people getting into. Fortunately there is a way to deal with this, at least somewhat, and that is to set up a separate email address for logging into websites and don’t give that email address out to anybody.

Use one email address for correspondence and use the other one as one of those two keys for logging in to your online accounts. And doing this has the additional benefit, or possibly even primary benefit, of making sure that it’s much less likely an attacker would know where password resets were going to go. Again, if you use a publicly known email address, then people know where password resets links are going. But if your email address is secret, then no one really know. Now, while having a somewhat secret email slash username combo is really helpful, what is downright crucial for your online security is to make sure that you have strong, unique passwords on all of your online accounts.

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