Inbox Zero

Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero philosophy is great and why can best be summed up when he says, “It feels great to suck less.” Think about all of those old email messages that you never dealt with; you will eventually delete them, but until you do they really weigh you down. Waiting longer makes the problem even worse because

Step 1: Create a DMZ [link]

Put every message that you received before today into a DMZ (demilitarized zone) folder. Don’t argue, just do it. You can’t

Step 2: Classify new incoming mail

The following classification are what Merlin recommends, and I have found quite useful in practice:

  • Act – These are items that require you to act. If it will only take a minute or so, you should do them right now! You should have dealt with all of the messages in this category by the end of the day.
  • Respond – These are items that will take 5 minutes or less to respond to. You should have dealt with all of these messages by the end of the day.
  • Hold – These are items that require your attention, but will take some time to complete.. Do not abuse this tag!
  • Waiting – These are items that I am waiting on a response for. If it does not matter if the other person responds or not, just delete the email and do not classify as waiting.
  • Archive – Completed items that you need to retain. For example they include important attachments that you need to refer to later. Do not archive when you can delete.

Note: it is not necessary to classify messages in your DMZ. You will either respond, archive or delete them in an independent process (see Step 4).

Step 3: Schedule email dashes [link]

Do not sit in your inbox all day and do not use your inbox as a to-do list. Closing your email application will free up your attention to focus on substantive work. The following timings are suggested by Merlin, but not required. The important thing is that you do close your email to focus on real work, and don’t get bogged down with less important

  1. New email check + scanning + super-fast responses: 2 minutes every 20 minutes
  2. Non-critical responses: 10 minutes or 5 emails every 90 minutes
  3. Processing “the pile”: 2 minutes every hour + 15 minutes at the end of the day
  4. Metawork: 15 minutes twice a week
  5. Further culling, responding, and clearing “the pile”: Through the day, as available, in 5-8 minute dashes

Step 4: Work down your Email DMZ.

It took me about two weeks worth of free time in the evenings to clear out my 8,000 email messages across four accounts. I did not declare “email bankruptcy”, but I did delete most of the messages in the DMZ.

Good Inbox Zero Links:


Header photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash