Inbox Zero: A Small Business Owners Guide


Steve Thompson

Jun 24, 2021


category folder


Time Management

Blogger Merlin Mann introduced the concept known as inbox zero in 2006. Through his blog 43 Folders, he explained how to use time management strategies effectively to allow more time for achieving creative goals. Since then, it's evolved from an email management method to a modern philosophy on prioritizing activities for specific time frames. Inbox zero is not about reducing emails to zero as it is more about maximizing time management. Here's a look at how to achieve inbox zero.

Startups Evolve from Zero Emails‍

Inbox with 996 unread emails

Launching a new business can be frustrating for a while to attract followers unless you do aggressive digital marketing from the start. On the one hand, there's excitement over the new launch, but on the other hand, there can be enormous anxiety about developing an online following quickly. You should first address the core entrepreneur challenges beyond the website, such as funding and marketing.

Once your business gets enough attention through various marketing channels, your inbox will likely get flooded with too many emails to read. Many of those emails might just be spam or marketers trying to start up a B2B relationship. Spam filters are great for weeding out scams and useless contacts, but it doesn't stop there. At this point, you need to start prioritizing emails based on relevance to achieving your goals.

Email Overload‍

In the pursuit of correspondence, startups might generate traffic by signing up for multiple online subscriptions or downloading free interactive apps. But after a while, much of this type of early work contributes to useless clutter. Eventually, you'll need to spend time sorting through these contacts to determine which ones matter to your company and which ones don't.

Another problem with this approach to building a quick online following is you might be signing up for all kinds of memberships without reading the fine print on how entities use your information. Do they market it to other companies, which will inevitably create even more clutter?

When a team of multiple collaborators has access to the same email inbox, it's helpful for members to use tags to categorize shared emails. This action lets others know the email has already been checked so that the same messages don't keep wasting the team's time. With good teamwork, members can assign emails to specific workers who handle particular issues. The work can be accelerated with the use of template responses that save time and energy.

When It's Time for Inbox Zero‍

person looking through files

Once you notice that going through your emails eats away precious time that could be better spent on other priorities, you need to understand how to achieve inbox zero. Remember that inbox zero is about time management and equates to zero waste of time. One of the ways to reach inbox zero includes using folders, tags, and labels to categorize and prioritize your emails.

Categorizing emails will come in handy if you decide to go on vacation, which can lead to a large backlog of unread emails when you return. To help reduce this buildup, you can use an autoresponder to let people know you'll be away from your desk for a while. You might mention a date when you'll be able to respond. As for organizing and catching up on newsletters, you can use an RSS reader such as Feedly, which consolidates all your subscriptions in one place.

You may achieve inbox zero through a variety of strategies. It might involve setting limits on the number of times you check your emails in a day. You can also set reminders on emails or remove your email app from your mobile phone if you need to forget about them and enjoy life temporarily. Another effective strategy is to skim through emails and determine which problems can be resolved quickly. You can start them, then go back and answer each one.

The first step to reducing clutter is to eliminate unnecessary emails in your inbox. From then on, be careful about the subscriptions you sign up for. Sometimes permitting to receive emails can mean getting a regular newsletter plus endless spam to go with it. Unsubscribing from newsletters you don't have time for is essential for reducing time-consuming clutter.

Achieving Inbox Zero‍

Email Icon from 14,359 to 0

The idea of responding to the most critical emails immediately was a central theme in the book Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen as a philosophy to be more productive. He suggested a "two-minute rule" that calls for reading emails right away if they can be answered within a few minutes. His GTD method encompasses the actions of collecting, processing, organizing, and reviewing messages then acting upon them by responding or delegating the task to others. This method further includes documenting tasks rather than trying to memorize them.

Usually, the first thing typical small businesses consider for weeding out trivial conversations is the subject line. From there, you can categorize emails by topics and then establish a pecking order for responding to them. Scheduling specific time frames to check and respond to emails helps accomplish time efficiency.

Learning how to achieve inbox zero is not a complicated process, but there are various options to consider, and not every method works for any given company. Some companies focus more on scheduling their emails. Others prioritize interactivity, especially companies that generate fast leads through digital marketing campaigns and social media. Some businesses attract an inbox full of leads, causing them to respond in a more timely manner.

However, many organizations must deal with a diverse mix of emails that include questions, requests, suggestions, and complaints. Failing to respond to customer complaints or opportunities is a recipe for losing business. At the same time, an organization must delete a certain amount of junk emails partly to conserve server space. If the correspondence is meaningful, there will likely be follow-up emails anyway. A typical email trash bin holds deleted email for up to 30 days, allowing you to recover it even though most of the time there won't be such a need.

Another way to clean out your inbox is to use the app Wrike, which allows you to put your most actionable emails in one workspace and begin performing the necessary tasks involved. It's like arranging a "to do" list then doing the work. Another helpful app is Boomerang for Gmail, which allows you to schedule times to review a specific batch of emails.


Every business must develop strategies for time management to ensure it's operating as productively as possible. Spending too much time and effort on emails can lead to diminishing returns. But classifying and prioritizing emails can enhance productivity in numerous ways, much like lead scoring. Contact experienced e-marketing associates to learn more about making your inbox and other operations involving the web more efficient.

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