Email efficiency: Should you aim for Inbox Zero?

Everyone hates email. But email isn’t going away.

Despite the growing popularity of office messaging applications such as Slack, we’re still sending and receiving more email than ever.

Around the world in 2015, more than 205 billion emails were sent.

Small wonder, then, that many of us feel we’re as if we’re drowning in the stuff.

Notifications, newsletters, meeting requests, reply-all chains – they all add up.

Mediating at desk with laptop

What would your inbox look like?

In 2007, productivity expert Merlin Mann called for a war on email. His goal: Inbox Zero.

Merlin argued that we could only begin our real work when our inboxes were empty.

Hundreds of thousands of people followed his techniques:

• Delete irrelevant messages

• Immediately respond to emails if there is a specific short request

• Move messages needing more thought to a “Requires response” folder

• And avoid interruptions by closing the email application for most of the day

Why? Because each email ping or notification pop up costs us more than we think.

Researchers from the University of California found it takes more than 20 minutes for us to be able to return to actual work after dealing with an email.

In recent years, other productivity experts have started questioning Inbox Zero.

Now that we can quickly and accurately search our email for keywords, Laura Vanderkam says, we may well be losing a vital database.

More than that – Inbox Zero can give you a false sense of accomplishment.

So is Inbox Zero for you? It depends on your personality – and how you relate to technology.

Email will never stop arriving. But you can be strategic in how you deal with it.

Here are three approaches to email. See which one works best for you.


#1: Take control through Inbox Zero

Does your overflowing inbox make you feel out of control?

If so, the Inbox Zero approach might suit you perfectly.

Finishing the day with an empty inbox may well help you feel on top of your workload.

But be aware that focusing on Inbox Zero may well make you less productive.

Dealing with email can feel like a satisfying, quick substitute for more difficult tasks.

Try dealing with email at the beginning and end of your day – and ignoring it all other times.


#2: Go with the flow

If a full inbox doesn’t cause you alarm, then Inbox Zero may not be for you.

Piled up papers in box

Zen and the art of inbox maintenance

Many people work just fine with thousands of unread emails. Why?

Because they know nearly all the emails they receive aren’t directly important.

If you miss an important email, someone will remind you.

Deleting email takes time, and searching your inbox works fine.


#3: Find a balance with Inbox Lite

Consider an Inbox Lite approach if Inbox Zero seems too hardline but you’re not comfortable with having hundreds or even thousands of messages piling up.

Here, the aim is to reduce the flow of new emails and quickly delete old unread mail in bulk.

One way to reduce the incoming flow is by using, which trawls your inbox and lets you unsubscribe from all your unwanted mail very quickly.

Use this in conjunction with Mailstrom, which lets you delete all emails from a single sender with one click and rapidly slim down your inbox.

If you use Gmail, try experimenting with Priority Inbox.

If you turn on this Gmail feature, Google will only alert you if you get an email from someone you’ve emailed before or if it appears to be important (based on its content).

And if Gmail gets this wrong, you can manually flag what’s important.

When managing a crowded inbox, artificial intelligence like this could be just the timesaver you need.