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Peter Kay Headshot

Zen and the Zero Inbox

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Every night my inbox is completely empty. Yes. Zero emails. For the past 15 years. Without fail. And I'm going to show you how to do it too.

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Your Inbox is Your Life

The journey you are about to take is not just some simple geeky cute Computer Minute moment. You will explore the depths of your very being and embark on a life-changing quest because your inbox is a reflection of who you are. To change the inbox you have to change your life. Conversely, according to Kay's 1st Law of Metaphysical Technological Thermodynamics, by changing your inbox, you therefore change your life as a result.

Your Inbox is Not Your To Do list

The number one cause of inbox overload is that people use their inbox as a general purpose storage system. They use it for reminders, to dos, and filing email attachments. It's no longer an inbox, it's a store-all-my-stuff box. Which is why yours is a mess.

You're not going to go very far with this transformation unless you have a system to track your to dos. If you're using Outlook, the Tasks folder works great. Gmail has a built-in task system too. Alternately, you can use several cloud-based task systems. Find one that fits and use it.

Commit to the 3-step Program for 40 Days

You have to promise yourself that no matter how painful this is, you have to execute the 3-step program once a day for a 40 day period. Personal development gurus say that if you do something for 27 days straight, it becomes a habit. Let's use 40 because we're talking about change of Biblical proportions.

Make it the Last Work Thing You Do Each Day

I suggest your inbox processing ritual is followed every night as the last work item. Get your mind trained to know that processing your inbox means work is ending. An empty inbox is your ticket out of the office and, as we say in Hawaii, your official start of "pau hana" or "work is done."
I assure you, nothing says "Go play now" as much as an empty inbox. The gain is surely worth the pain.

Process Each Item and Don't Skip

The 3 steps to daily empty inbox nirvana are simple:
1. Sort your email with the most recent item first and start working at the top.Do not skip an item. Process one by one in order. No exceptions.

2. With each email item, you either: delete, archive, or unsubscribe; move to the to do list or save the attachment and then archive or delete; reply to the email and then archive or delete.

3. Don't stop until your inbox is completely clear.

Cruise Through the Next Day

If you empty your inbox at the end of each day, then it really doesn't matter how you process your inbox throughout the next day. Go ahead and check it a lot, or a little, because everyone who needs a reply will get one in less than 24 hours.

Find Shortcuts and Automations

Use whatever tools you can to improve your productivity on the 3 steps. When I used Outlook, I had automatic filters pre-file and archived common email from my customers which saved me a time-consuming step. Using Gmail, I've turned on keyboard shortcuts (hit the "?" key to find out how) and quickly converted emails to tasks using shift-T.

Keep the 40 Day Promise

You must go through this process once a day, every day, for 40 days. The very first time, it will take a huge effort because you probably have over a thousand emails in your inbox. After that, you probably will never have to slog through more than a hundred and most of those will be quickly deleted without having to reply.

The Real Challenge and the Secret Benefit

Make no mistake; this will not be easy. You might get through your first few days but after that, you will have the urge to revert to your old habits. Perhaps it's because your workday is so long that you just don't want to do that one last thing. Chances are that the real reason you are falling off the wagon is because processing your inbox requires that you deal with a pain that is easier to ignore than to solve. If that happens, you have an incredible opportunity to directly face a personal dragon and slay it.

Slay Your Fear Dragon

Avoiding your inbox process is a fear reaction. And the more you avoid it, like any fear dragon, the bigger it gets. And like any fear dragon, the moment you directly face it down, it simply disappears. The Zen of the Zero Inbox is that it brings your fears to the fore, giving you the opportunity to slay them one by one and eliminate the things that hold you back from your full potential.

Rule Your World

Clearing your inbox every day means you are facing life head-on, taking charge, making decisions, and creating the world you want. While I can't tell you the specific ways your life will change, I assure you, if you stick with this process, you will feel better about yourself and you will reinforce, on a daily basis, that you are the master of your universe.

Let's Form a Community of ZenZeros

I'm going to watch the comments on this post and respond where appropriate. Let's help each other get to the Zero Inbox and most importantly, stay there. I can't wait to see how the next 40 days will transform your lives. Share it here!