4 Rules To Achieve Inbox Zero And Stress-Level Zero

Do the emails, that pile up in your inbox, give you stress? Well, you’re not the only one. Many of us HATE email and can never get to inbox zero. And at the same time, we also can’t live without it.

Why do we hate email? You know, sometimes you get an email that just shoots up all your stress, anxiety, and overall nervousness levels. Shit like “URGENT” or “NEEDS SOLUTION” really creeps me out.

I love all caps, but mostly in a sarcastic way, and not in a “do this right now or I will go ape shit on you” way.

And then there’s all the junk email that just clutters your inbox. Check out what someone sent me the other day:

bad sales email

I promise you; that’s an actual email that I received last week. And I get dozens of these emails every week. I understand that everyone is trying to survive here.

But these type of emails will not get you many clients. (If you’re a marketer or salesperson, and you cold-email people like that; please read Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing).

Between my blog and online course, and my family business (that I run together with my dad since 2010), I get about 40–50 emails a day from real people.

I’m not counting all the emails that go in my “Promos” and “Updates” tab in Gmail. It’s a considerable amount of emails. But it’s not anything like Tim Ferris’s inbox, who gets thousands of emails a day.

Email volume doesn’t equal success.

Most entrepreneurs or executives I know, get anything between 5–50 emails a day. But It doesn’t matter how many emails you get for two reasons.

  1. The amount emails you get doesn’t equal how important you are.
  2. I’ve learned that almost everyone struggles with email. Not just people who get 500 emails a day. Even if you get 5 emails a day, it can still control your life.

If you’ve read any of my previous articles; you know that I like systems. And for years I’ve tried to create a system for handling email.

I’ll tell you this: It’s one tough nut to crack. And I’ve read countless articles and talked to a lot of people about how they deal with their email.

Most systems are too complicated. I don’t want to waste my time on archiving emails in multiple folders, or creating a system that takes a lot of effort to maintain.

Do you want to know my system? It’s pretty simple. It’s based on 4 rules.

1. Never just CHECK email. Only open email if you’re committed to answering emails.

It’s so simple. And yet, 99% of all people keep their email client open all day. Or they just open their inbox, and “check” it.

What’s the point? Checking has NO USE — even if you’re waiting on an important email. Why would you stare at a computer screen? Go and do something useful with your time.

From a pragmatic point of view, there’s only one purpose to email: Handling it.

2. Reply. Archive. Snooze.

You have 3 options. You either reply, archive, or snooze an email. I reply immediately to easy emails. And I immediately archive emails that I’ve been cc’d on or when I have nothing to say. That’s how you quickly get to inbox zero.

I also don’t mind snoozing emails until later. Sometimes I just can’t answer an email. But I want to deal with it anyway.

Humans are task oriented. Your brain has a need to finish things. Otherwise, you get stressed out.

Even worse, research shows that unresolved issues can lead to emotional disorders. Granted, not dealing with an email is not a big unresolved issue. But still, it’s a small task that you didn’t resolve. And that nags.

3. Don’t keep your email client open and turn off notifications.

This one is straightforward. Do you get paid for sending emails? If you don’t work in customer service, the answer is no.

And that means your job is something different. So do your job! You don’t want intrusions by email notifications because they interrupt your focus.

4. It’s okay to deal with email multiple times a day.

Sometimes it works to schedule set times for email. For example: “Every day between 5pm and 5.30pm I will answer my email.” But I’ve found that it’s okay to be more flexible.

However, rule 1 still applies—whether it helps inbox zero or not. That means: No “checking” of email. Sometimes it works to answer your email on set times. And only once or twice a day. But I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter how often you want to deal with email.

As long as you are not interrupted by it, it’s okay. Some people just have to deal with more email. So just deal with it. Some days I don’t open email at all. Other days I spend a few hours on email.

And that’s it. This simple 4-rule system keeps stress at a minimum and clears your inbox at the same time. It’s not perfect, and this might not work if you work in customer service, or in a very fast-paced business.

But other than that: It provides easy guidelines to clear your inbox. By following these rules, I achieve inbox zero (almost) every day.

Finally, you want to prevent email from causing unnecessary stress by changing your mindset. You’re not getting fired or you won’t lose all your clients if you respond to email later.

So just deal with email in your own way, and don’t give it too much attention. Focus on your core business, whatever that may be.

Email is just a way of communicating; don’t let it rule your life.

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