Zero Inbox Thirty – Brutal tactics for eliminating email

Confession: I shamelessly hang up on telemarketers. Ain’t nobody got time for that. For similar reasons, I don’t play around when it comes to dealing with emails. Each day I clear my inbox with the tactical precision and brute force of Seal Team Six — I drop in, neutralize inefficiencies, extract action items and quickly evacuate.

Why with the militant approach, you ask? I don’t believe email to be real work. I see it as no more than an inefficient system of reallocating priorities. Within one year, I’ve gone from dealing with nearly 200 emails/day to less than 200/week, while increasing my output by nearly 400%.

Here’s how to reclaim the the time needed to get in the zone and do actual work…

Basic Tactics

  1. Set Strict Boundaries — I have 2x scheduled 15-minute email “extractions” each day – I drop in at 10am and 2pm (based on intel fromGmail Meter). Decide the best spread for your half hour, and then stick to it. Resist the urge to check any other time. Therefore…
  2. Disable Push Notifications — For each email pushed to your phone, Skynet sends one more Terminator to kill John Connor. Manage information, don’t let information manage you.
  3. Unsubscribe From Everything — Relegate brand updates to Twitter. Don’t let brands scramble your attention by competing in the same space where you receive mission-critical messages. Use to batch unsubscribe from the junk.
  4. Get Things Done — Don’t read an email and just leave it there. Time glanced, is time wasted. Either process it, delete it, or…
  5. If The Task Can Be Done Within 2 Minutes, Do It — If there’s an action you can take right now, and you’re certain that it can be completed within a few steps, then just get it out of the way.
  6. Keep It Under 5 Sentences — Treat your email responses like text messages. Take the pledge @ Work towards subject line emails, where the action item is in the subject line, followed by EOM (End of Message).
  7. Impose Scheduling — Calendar ping-pong is an organizational pastime. Open-ended phrases like “When are you free next week?” beget more emails. Instead, suggest a specific date & time. Then provide 3 alternative time windows as a backup. When you’re ready, take it up a notch with
  8. Gut Your Sign-Offs —I sign-off messages with “H”. At most, a “Cheers, H”. Don’t sign-off with fluff like “Warmest regards.” You’re requesting an analytics report, not writing a love letter.
  9. Clear Contact Information — I’m perplexed by how many people don’t list their phone number, email address and mailing address in their signatures. Make life easier for your recipients.
  10. Resist The “Reply All” Button — If you’re just writing “thanks” or “got it,” please don’t hit reply all. I beg you. Those 5 seconds of wasted life accumulate quickly.

Advanced Tactics

  1. Collect Email Metrics — Use tools like Gmail Meter and RescueTime to gain insights into your email usage. Can you move your top senders into a project management suite? When do you get the most email? Learn your patterns and tighten your game.
  2. Delegate Routine Tasks — Time is money, money is time. Invest in a virtual assistant (I recently switched from AskSunday to FancyHands). Life is too short to be wasted on mundane tasks like waiting on hold for an attendant or booking a dentist appointment.
  3. Dictate The Pace Of Engagement — Inform colleagues of your militant email process. Let them know of the best ways to get in touch with you outside of your scheduled extractions. If something is time sensitive, people know that they can call or text me.
  4. Use Smart Folders — Some folks use smart labels. I prefer to forward things to Evernote. Receipts, confirmations and reading material are automatically tagged and sorted via subject line.
  5. Ignore Things — If an email isn’t explicitly addressed me or my unit, I instantly delete it no matter the consequence. I seldom make it past “Hi All” or “Attention Employees”. If there are too many recipients, it’s lazy (and spammy). Delete with vengeance.

Nervous? I suggest enlisting in basic training @

When you’re ready to get real, work the aforementioned tactics into your arsenal. I promise that within 3 months, you’ll notice a dramatic productivity increase.

The objective of Zero Inbox Thirty is to reclaim the time needed to get in the zone and do the thing that you were meant to do for the rest of your life. God speed, soldier.


Title Photo Credit: flickr

Written by Hamza Khan

Hamza is an award-winning digital strategist and entrepreneur making a splash in higher education.

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