Last week, I decided to purge my inbox. It had been bothering me for a while that my inbox had jumped from the level it was at for most of last year (a very manageable 160 emails) to around 260 emails over the holiday period and it felt like I was never going to get through them all. So I made the decision to have a cleanse, empty it out and go forward in 2020 with zero emails hanging over my head. Whether we admit it or not, having an inbox full of emails is a weight on our shoulders. Particularly if the underlying intention is to get through them at some point. They sit there, nearly dormant but quietly torturing us as a reminder of the work not yet done. But no more! I last got to inbox zero back in 2017 when I wrote this article about it and as I entered 2020, it was time to review the plan and update it for my current ways of working.

What Makes Our Inbox Get So Full?

To start, I put some thought into why my inbox was full and came up with the following thoughts:
  • My inbox is full of stuff that I would like to do, or people I would like to get back to. In all cases, they require some type of action.
  • Many of the emails that stay in my inbox are outside of my day to day work and not super relevant.
  • Many of the emails require additional thought and sometimes require a decision which I don’t have time to make at the time of reading.
  • Some of the emails don’t really fit into my current filing categories and I don’t know where to put them
  • I sometimes email myself thoughts and ideas when I’m out and about (often after listening to a podcast) and then don't know what to do with them.

The Link Between Inbox and Tasks

The other key realisation I had is that if my inbox is full of items that should be tasks, then I need a pretty solid task management process in place to be able to clean out my inbox and keep it low. Lucky for me, I have just started a to-do list system that I’m pretty happy with, so I was well set up for this step. If you’re like me and you have an overflowing inbox then think about your task management system. Are you using Trello or Asana? Are you using paper and pen or some other list? Do you need a new way? Getting this sorted first will make a massive difference when it comes to clearing your inbox.

Turning Email into Actions

Once I had done the thinking and figured out my task process, it was time to get stuck into my emails. Of course, going through this task, there were only a limited number of options I had to get to email zero:
  1. Add a task to my to-do list and delete the email
  2. Add a task to my to-do list and file the email
  3. Delete the email (no action)
  4. Delegate the email to someone else
So where do you start with 180+ emails in your inbox? Here are some of the steps I did to start:
  1. I looked at all the email sequences I had been saving. (often I save 5 day challenges or the like) and I deleted them. If I felt they were important, I added a note on my work or personal to-do list to get back to them, knowing I could find them in my trash
  2. I unsubscribed from anything I don’t read as I deleted the next batch of incoming email
  3. I created a few new email folders/tags for those ones missing a place to live. One of these was for ‘introductions’ as I often struggle with where to put an email once I’ve been introduced to someone new.
  4. I added a new tab on my to-do list for people to follow up with/catch up with
  5. I did a short reply to a bunch of emails in my inbox
  6. I created a new tab on my list of personal tasks and references to do. This now holds anything from paying a bill to replying to an email about my kid's football season.


And then, I deleted the rest. Yep, if you sent me an email between July 2018 and June 2019 and I hadn’t yet replied, I deleted it. There were only about 30 emails that fell into this bracket at the end, and I figured that they likely were no longer current anyway! Ok, you got me, deleting them seemed so final. So I created a temporary folder called "to be deleted" and I put them in there. I figured if I got 10 minutes spare this week I could check through them, and if I don't then I can delete them for good.


Now, I feel brilliant! A weight has definitely been listed and my inbox is at zero. Better yet, I now have a system for dealing with new emails so my inbox is not my to-do list. You should try it!   [Thanks Noah Kagan for giving me inspiration for an inbox purge on your podcast]