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How I Achieved Inbox Zero in 4 Steps

How I Achieved Inbox Zero in 4 Steps

I love email. I can be hooked to my inbox all day on my trusty smartphone — and therefore, I love my smartphone too!

But I was not always an email-lover. Three and a half years ago, when I was working at a day job, I barely felt the need to check my email. Only after I started on my entrepreneurial journey, did I begin holding my emails dear. I am a blogger, a freelance writer, an editor, a behavioral coach and an online marketer. I am also religious about responding to every message I possibly can.

If you’re an entrepreneur too, and wondering what is it with us and email, you’re not alone. To me, email is the gateway to opportunities, an exchange of stellar ideas, or a chance to help a budding job-quitter blaze the right trail. That said, at times, email has become my worst enemy. For one, my partner has “caught” me checking and responding to messages on my phone in bed. At other times, my inbox has been the sole reason I’ve had near-zero productivity for hours.

There was an urgent need to manage my inbox (it counted 41,377 at the time!) and keep it clean.

So, I subscribed to the Inbox Zero practice, where every day each item in your inbox must be moved to the archives, trash or some other folder.

Here are the four simple hacks I used to do it, and you can too:

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1. Be Generous With Deleting Email

I was talking to Aymeric, founder of Weekplan.net, and asked him how he maintained his sanity and kept his inbox clean all the time. Aymeric was kind enough to give me his top tip, but also honest to reveal that he only recently hit Inbox Zero (which is pretty hard).

His number one tip? Be generous with email deletion.

I have a confession to make: I used to save each and every email, thinking I may need it sometime in future. May be it is a Cancerian trait or something, but I certainly was not deleting generously.

Then Einstein spoke to me: Psst…”the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Of course! Here I was expecting to achieve Inbox Zero and yet doing the same ol’, same ol’. Once I took Einstein’s advice, changed my ways and hit DELETE, things became more manageable.

A word of caution: You can go and delete everything in your inbox, followed by a momentary sigh of relief, only to be attacked by panic shortly thereafter. So don’t be a blind deleting machine — delete smartly. The best way I’ve found for smart deletion is to have folders or labels (or whatever you prefer). You can also choose a label and delete it entirely without touching other messages.

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For example, in 2009, when I started my freelance writing business, I subscribed to loads of newsletters that helped freelancers. I labeled them as “Blogging stuff”, “Freelance writing”, “Follow up blog emails” etc.

In hindsight, I admit my labeling skills were below par, but they served the purpose. Today I’ve come a long way and don’t need beginner tips anymore. So I hit DELETE and killed these labels in a heartbeat.

2. Unsubscribe Ruthlessly

And I mean ruthlessly. In the last few weeks, I have unsubscribed from 60% of the newsletters I don’t need any more. That was a relief because I didn’t have to keep working at cleaning up the mess.

Not only that, having put the effort into unsubscribing so much in the past few days, I kept the habit of subscribing in check.

I can sometimes suffer from the shiny-object syndrome. I think we all do. When I saw a new website, a cool app, or found a nice blog, I wanted to subscribe to them. And let’s not forget, I loved collecting and filing away the freebies people give away on their websites!

So, I became mindful of subscribing. Just before hitting “submit”, I asked myself: Do I really need this service/e-book/subscription? The keyword here is “need” versus “want”.

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It’s amazing how most of the time the answer was a resounding, “No”.

3. Ask Smart Questions First

One of my first blogs was in the area of freelance writing where I shared writing tips and tricks with other freelancers. I received a lot of email from fellow and budding writers sharing their thoughts, and at times, asking for help. Of course, being who I was, I took time and religiously replied to every email. Then it started getting a little too much because I was spending a lot of time writing long replies to a dozen questions that a newbie had packed into just one email. At times, the answer would be already available on my blog or the Net. The sender had not done their research.

So I came up with a few ninja questions:

  • Can this wait? If yes, move to “Follow up” label. If no, ask the next question.
  • Does this really require my attention? If no, move to Archives/Trash. If yes, ask the next question.
  •  Can I direct them to a resource instead? If yes, send the resource link and move to Archives/Trash. If no, ask the next question.
  • Am I ever going to respond/refer to this? If no, then move to Trash. If yes, respond in less than 5-sentences, move to Archives/Trash and get it done.

4. Be OK If You Don’t Achieve Inbox Zero Literally

I must admit, the first time I saw my inbox size go down from 41,377 to 0, I felt a little lonely. It was as if I was left in the Australian bush all on my own. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to really do Inbox Zero.

Yikes!

When I received a new email, I tried wiping its existence off the surface of my inbox. But it hurt me a little more. If Inbox Zero was the bush, a thriving, overflowing inbox was the city. And I’ve always been a city gal.

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I continued to keep my inbox empty for the next few days, but the sombre feeling wouldn’t go away. Then I looked online to see if other people were feeling the same uneasiness inside and bumped into Jeff Bercovici’s Inbox 50.

What a relief! Jeff probably describes the feeling much better than I do. He writes, “To do Inbox Zero, you have to like Inbox Zero.”

How true. To do the bush, I must like it first. Which I don’t right now.

So my point? It’s OK if you cannot survive the zilch. I’ve found the mid-way in Inbox 50-100. You can find it in Inbox 80, or Inbox 20. Take your pick. So long it doesn’t get back to Inbox 41,377!

Your Thoughts?

Would you ever try to achieve Inbox Zero? Or have you already? Love to hear your thoughts!

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Last Updated on August 4, 2020

How to Make Time Go Faster When You’re Having a Bad Time

How to Make Time Go Faster When You’re Having a Bad Time

Standing at the front of the room, your heart is pounding as people stroll in, and you’ve been up since 5 am rehearsing. You’ve spent weeks preparing for this moment. Your slides are perfect, and you’ve memorized your talk.

As the clock shows 9:30, you begin with a customary “good morning” and then zilch. Nothing. Your mind goes blank. Suddenly, time seems to stop. Everything goes into slow motion, and you can feel your face begin to burn.

For anyone who has done presentations in front of a live audience, freezing at the wrong time is a nightmare waiting to happen, and when it does, if feels like time has frozen. The feeling of helplessness drags on, and you just wish the clock would fast forward so you can escape from the nightmare.

Of course, the reality is that time does not speed up or slow down. Time is constant; only our perception of passing time changes[1]. This is a good thing, too. What is happening is that your fight or flight response is kicking in, and you have become hyper-aware of your situation. Your brain is recognizing you are in danger and responding in the best way it knows how.

This perceived slowing down of time is an illusion[2]. It is your brain creating and processing more memories of your current environment and searching out the threat it has detected. It’s searching for the predator that has decided you look like an exquisite meal, and it is doing this incredibly fast — much faster than it typically would. It is how we protect ourselves, and, in most cases, it is a beneficial response.

However, in many cases, it can be torturous to be in this situation, feeling helpless and frozen and being hyper-aware of our unfortunate situation. So what can you do to speed up the perception of time?

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1. Have a Backup Plan

If you cast your mind back to the situation at the start of this article, your brain has frozen and your carefully crafted words are lost somewhere inside your head: What do you do? Most people panic, and, despite their careful preparation and rehearsal, one part they did not rehearse is when or if something goes wrong.

Freezing on stage can happen to even the most seasoned presenter, and having a script or a set of queue cards on hand can quickly refresh/reboot your brain to get you back on track and avoid the torturous feeling of being in a slow-motion crash.

Steve Jobs was a very experienced presenter. One of the best. Yet even though his preparation was meticulous — often taking as much as six months to put together a keynote presentation — things still went wrong. In this famous clip of a keynote Steve Jobs gave back in 2010, the WIFI network was very slow. When you watch the clip, it feels like it goes on forever, yet it only lasts around two and a half minutes. For a presentation that lasted about two hours, two and a half minutes is around two per cent. Not at all long, yet for Steve Jobs and the audience, the whole incident felt a lot longer.

Fortunately, as a seasoned presenter, Steve Jobs broke the tension and the feeling that time was slowing down by using humor and eventually moving on to the next part of the keynote. He had a backup, and his backup was to quickly, and without fuss, move on to the next segment.

Always have a backup plan and an exit strategy. Be prepared for the worst and be ready to switch to your backup plan if things do go wrong.

2. Focus on What You Have Control Over

You have control over three things: your thoughts, your emotions, and your actions. Nothing else. You cannot control events, how other people judge you, or whether another person will get upset by what you say or do.

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Most bad days are a result of the way we react to something we have no control over. A client takes their business to your rival. You had no control over that. That was a decision your client made based on a set of circumstances and the way they felt about those circumstances. The only control you have in this situation is how you feel about losing a client. You could be angry; you might look around for someone to blame or for an excuse. But in the end, none of that will change the fact you no longer serve that client.

In these situations, always begin by reminding yourself about what you have control over. Are there any positive action steps you can take that will solve the problem? Are you allowing your emotions to influence your mood? Are you thinking negatively or positively about this situation?

In all these scenarios, you can instantly decide to change your thoughts, your feelings, and the action you take. You have to make that decision.

If you do lose an important client, and there is no solution, you can use the experience to learn. Use it as an opportunity to analyze what went wrong and implement changes to the way you do things that minimize the chances of a similar situation happening with your other clients in the future.

Dwelling on the loss will prolong your suffering, slowing down perceived time and making you feel dreadful. Using the situation to learn from your mistakes will help you to get back on track and keep time moving forward at a pace you are satisfied with.

3. Take Full Responsibility for the Situation

Accepting full responsibility for your life allows you to overcome adversity and difficulties. While a massive viral pandemic may not be your fault, what you do in the circumstances is your responsibility.

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Being in lockdown, where you must remain in your home, is something beyond your control (see number 2), but what you do with your time, how you manage your work, and how you maintain your health is your responsibility.

Governments may order you to stay at home, but what you do with your time while you are at home is something you are responsible for.

In these situations, you have a choice. Use the extra time you have positively, or pass responsibility for your life to the daily negative news cycles.

When you take responsibility for your life, you take back control[3].

Complaining about the situation only ensures you stay stuck in the same miserable place. Accepting responsibility for your life gives you so many more options.

You could take that online course you have been thinking about doing, or paint that picture you have wanted to do for years. You could clean out your old clothes, do the spring cleaning, or clear out your garage. There are hundreds of things you could do that, before this global pandemic, you always complained you had no time for. Now you do have time.

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Busying yourself with these tasks turns any bad situation into an opportunity, and time will no longer seem such a drudge; instead, it will feel like a godsend.

Key Takeaways

There are many inevitabilities in life. One of those inevitabilities is that you will have bad times. Dwelling on your lousy situation, complaining, and reliving the experience over and over will only cause time to slow down perceptually.

Accepting the inevitable, approaching it with a “cest la vie” mindset. and looking for the positives will soon pull you away from the difficult times and back to more fertile areas where you can thrive and grow, and time will begin to feel much faster.

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Featured photo credit: Johnny Cohen via unsplash.com

Reference

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