inbox zero

Inbox Zero: Worthwhile or a Waste of Time?

This post is part of our Mastering Microsoft 365 series

What is Inbox Zero? Depending on who you ask, Inbox Zero is either a brilliant way to stay organized by keeping your email inbox nearly empty or it’s an impractical, nearly impossible standard that no busy professional could possibly keep up with.

For the creator of the Inbox Zero Method, Merlin Mann, the real goal of Inbox Zero is to reduce email overwhelm by converting emails into actions as quickly as possible. He recognized that most people were using their inbox as a to-do list, and when they didn’t know what to do with an email, they just left it sitting in their inbox.

Without clarity of where to put each email for future reference, emails rapidly start piling up, making it increasingly difficult to see what needs to be done, increasing the feeling of overwhelm, while decreasing productivity.

Our takeaway from learning about the Inbox Zero method is that even if you decide that Inbox Zero isn’t for you, and you’d prefer to use the search, sort, categorization, and/or folder functions to stay on top of your workload, you still need to think through your email inbox management processes.

Rules for inbox management

Whichever way you decide to organize your email inbox, there are a few universal rules.

  1. Schedule time to manage email. No matter how you decide to manage your inbox, it will take some time to do.
  2. Unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read. You may want to create a separate email address or use a separate mailbox for non-work or non-essential emails.
  3. Immediately archive or delete any email that doesn’t require action.
  4. Strive to touch every email only once. Using the snooze button is acceptable. In fact, it’s a great way to remember to respond in depth at a more convenient time.

An easy place to start filtering your email is by using the standard four categories for sorting email: delete, delegate, defer or do. You can use email categories or folders to manage these actions.

Achieving Inbox Zero

Just like shoveling while it’s snowing, literally having zero emails in your inbox is likely to be a fleeting achievement. Instead, strive for zero stress about email.

Here are some popular resources on how to achieve Inbox Zero:

43 Folders Series: Inbox Zero The original posts from Merlin Mann and the team at 43 Folders showcases the skills, tools, and attitude needed to empty your email inbox – and then keep it that way.

The 7-Step Guide to Achieving Inbox Zero – And Staying There This Fast Company article extols the benefits of getting your email under control as the best thing you can do for your productivity.

4 Unique Strategies for Reaching Inbox Zero Try these expert strategies from Hubspot for staying organized throughout your busy day — and eventually, reaching Inbox Zero.

Deciding whether Inbox Zero is worth the effort

As this article “To Inbox Zero or Not to Inbox Zero?” suggests, email management often reflects your approach to organization in general. Creative colleagues may not be bothered by a messy inbox, while meticulous organizers and minimalists make it their top priority to keep clutter at bay.

Tools built into Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace can help you keep your inbox organized. For example:

  • Turning off notifications to reduce disruptions
  • Using automations to sort emails into folders or categories
  • Turning emails into tasks by flagging messages
  • Archiving emails once they’ve been read

Email overload

If you’re reading this and feeling overwhelmed by the hundreds of emails in your inbox, realize your email problem isn’t going to go away on its own. Even if you declare email bankruptcy and delete all your emails or start over with a new email address, if you haven’t addressed the fundamental email management problem, your inbox will soon be overflowing again.

Start taking small actions. For example, you can archive emails over 30 days old so they’re not cluttering up your inbox—and the emails will still be searchable. We covered searching and sorting emails more in depth here.

Considering Microsoft 365?

If you’re not yet using Microsoft 365, we have services available to help clients:

  • Select the appropriate Microsoft 365 licensing plan
  • Get setup with the right security and permissions
  • Migrate your emails and files from other systems
  • Provide ongoing Microsoft 365 technical support

If you want to explore your options, please reach out to our team by via email at or by calling 1-586-263-1775.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is “Inbox Zero?”

Inbox zero is an email management method to clear out your email inbox. You focus on deleting, labels, and categorizing to stay on top of your inbox.

How do I get my inbox to zero?

Setting up email filters and automations is the easiest way to stay on top of emails. Using automations to filter your emails by category will help you prioritize your emails.

How do I get to Inbox Zero in Outlook?

The easiest way to get to Inbox Zero in Outlook is to turn off notifications for new emails. Unsubscribing from companies who send a lot of offers/spam emails is going to help you breeze through your email easily.

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