How to Get a Fresh Start Boost from Inbox Zero
Monday, January 8, 2018 at 7:07AM
Linda Samuels in Fresh Start, Letting go, Motivation, action, decision fatigue, email, flexible, focus, fresh start, goals, lists, stuff, time

If you’re anything like me, you might be thinking, “There’s no possible way I’ll ever get to inbox zero.”  Over the years I’ve read tons of articles, books and even attended seminars with advice about the value of having zero emails in your inbox. I’ve commented on many posts about how “I have great admiration for your ability to get to zero and would love to do it myself, but don’t see how I can realistically get there…ever!” I’ve imagined how it might feel to be unencumbered by old emails and an inbox that felt more like a “to do someday list.”

While I haven’t set all of my 2018 goals in motion, or even decided what they will be, one of the goals I committed to this year was my project “inbox zero.” I wanted a fresh start and clean slate to grow from. With this new goal of “zero” in mind, I was curious if it was possible for me to achieve. I also wondered how to make it happen.

So I set a simple plan in motion. I remembered some of the advice I learned and it helped me to create a doable plan. Using the breaking-down-large-projects-into-small-parts thought process, I set up a few basic rules.


Linda’s Rules for Project Inbox Zero:

Set a completion date. I opted to have this done by January 1st. Guess what? That didn’t happen, but it did happen a week later. It’s good to remember that deadlines are great motivators, but be flexible. As it turns out, I needed that extra time to complete my goal. And if I needed more time, I would have made another adjustment.


Create some parameters. With hundreds of emails and decisions to process, I knew that I’d need more than a day to get through them. I used small time blocks each day to process the old emails while keeping up with the new emails. The beauty of doing a little bit each day was that decision-making wasn’t overwhelming. If I experienced decision fatigue, I stopped. I aimed for progress, not completion. That kept me motivated and ready for the next email session.


Establish the “dump” buckets. That may seem like an odd term, but it’s what it felt like. As I reviewed each email, I decided which “bucket” to “dump” the email or information into. My favorite bucket was the trash. If the email was no longer relevant, I let it go. Another bucket was my “to do” list. Anything that required action or follow-up got assigned a date on my list to review later. A third bucket was contacts. Some emails required transferring stats or information to my contact system. The other types of emails related to current or past projects. Those went into archive buckets. These archives are digital folders with specific project or topic category names.


Be Realistic. The hardest emails to decide about were the ones that I hoped to have done something with someday, but hadn’t. I used the “how long I’ve been ignoring this email factor” as my indicator for determining the likelihood of ever attending to that thing. In most cases, those emails ended up in the “trash” bucket. A few were archived or added to my to do list. However, before they were kept, I tried to be as realistic as possible. The point of achieving inbox zero wasn’t just to empty the box, but also to make realistic assessments about the contents.


Do it now. Some emails required more immediate action, like signing up for ICD’s new teleclasses. The time needed to complete those tasks was minimal. However, once the task was completed, the email could be deleted. So any quick action emails I opted to handle right away rather than adding them to my to do list.


As you’ve figured out by now, with these simple rules in place, within a few weeks, I got through hundreds of emails, routed them to their buckets, and have arrived at inbox zero. It’s a little strange to see my empty inbox. It looks kind of lonely. I’m still expecting hundreds of messages every time I open the program. Along with the strangeness, I do feel liberated with a positive feeling that fresh starts often bring. There’s a certain clarity and focus with being able to attend to the few new ones that pop in.

I’m looking forward to other types of letting go in the coming months. There are papers to shred, files to clear out, and general “stuff” to release. Emails were just the beginning.

What is your relationship to your inbox? Have you struggled with managing email? What works or doesn't work for you? What has your experience been with inbox zero or fresh starts for this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Come join the conversation!





Article originally appeared on The Other Side of Organized by Linda Samuels (
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