One Month Of Inbox Zero • Cat Morley

What I’ve learned after 30 days of keeping my inbox empty and answering every email within 24 hours!

One of my new year’s resolutions was to be more organised and I decided to start with my email. I’ve always been pretty good at keeping on top of my inbox, especially since Tom created Chase-Up, but there were still times when I'd forget about it for a few days and the messages piled up. In order to be more organised, I made it my goal for January to empty my inbox everyday by answering all of my messages in one go. Here are some of the tricks I’ve learned throughout the month:

1. Answer your emails sequentially

I’ve found that working my way from the top of my inbox to the bottom is really important, as it prevents me from delaying or putting off those trickier to handle emails. I also refrain from checking my mail throughout the day, so the first time I read a message is at the time I’m going to answer it. In the end, the motivation to get my inbox to zero conquers irrational fears that would put me off answering an email.

2. Empty your inbox first thing

I didn't realise how much difference processing my inbox in the morning compared to later in the day would make, but now I always make sure to do it first thing. If I leave it until later in the day, everyone else is on top of their own mail and will reply to my messages instantly, meaning that my inbox fills up faster than I can empty it. Also, the time difference between the UK and US works to my advantage, as a lot of my contacts are still asleep while I’m answering their messages. If you’re in the states you might want to switch this the other way around.

3. Keep emails short and sweet

Over the years, I’ve learned that a concise answer that arrives in a timely manner is way more effective than a well thought out email that arrives months late. I was just kidding myself by thinking I could write a more eloquent email by leaving it for longer - it was just procrastination. These days I stick with shorter emails sent on the same day as it keeps the ball rolling on projects.

4. Create to-do's for time consuming tasks

Speed is the key for getting your inbox empty, so it’s important to keep the flow going. Some emails can be answered and filed in just a few minutes while others require a little more work. Note down time-consuming emails in your to-do list and return to them once you’ve emptied the rest of your inbox. If you think a task might take longer than 24 hours, send a reply letting them know that you’ll email back as soon as it’s done.

5. Shut it down

One of the most rewarding things I’ve started to do is to close my email once it's empty and I’ve chased up everyone I’m waiting to hear from. I used to get caught in the trap of back and forth conversations and it meant that I practically lived in my inbox, struggling to get other tasks done without being distracted by email. Only one person has chased me up for not replying in the same day but my other contacts have become use to my new, once a day, reliable style.

30 days later and I think my inbox zero habit has stuck. My inbox seems faster and easier to empty than ever before and I’m way more organised with all of my projects. Next up for my organising resolution, I’m going to crack my to-do list...