Inbox Zero: To Strive for Nil or Not?

Productivity. It’s what we yearn for at work and praise when we feel it. But what does true productivity at work look like?

Coined by Merlin Mann, Inbox Zero is a filtering system designed to get your email inbox to zero - crazy, we know. Many believe this system is the cat’s pyjamas, the bee’s knees, the be-all-end-all of productivity success.

Nevertheless, spending so much time filtering and dissecting your inbox could distract you from work, resulting in what’s actually the antithesis of productivity. Sigh. Even so, with a growing need to shift focus from traditional emailing, productivity and project planning apps have started to take over in the workplace.

So let’s dive into what options there are for a better workflow and what it means to challenge age-old platforms at work.

From Hero to Zero

It’s evident that a never-ending email chain is painful and increases the switch-cost of constantly flicking between your inbox and actual work. If all your professional communication goes through email, it’s important to set yourself strict filtering systems. We want to avoid the eventual inbox overflow that no one wants to touch (please say no to 40,000 unread email notifications). With that said, Merlin Mann’s system for maximising your time and minimising the fluff in your inbox is a great place to start.

His suggested filters to reach Inbox Zero are:

  • Delete

  • Delegate

  • Respond

  • Refer

  • Do

In truth, this solution is not focused on having zero emails, but having zero inboxes instead. The aim is to minimise feeling overwhelmed and take back ownership of your precious time by allocating hierarchy.

Yes, we hear you, organising your emails into succinct folders already seems like a mammoth task. But never fear, there are other ways to combat inbox insanity:

Push notifications? Say nay - Can we say it louder for the people in the back! Think of checking emails as setting an appointment with yourself. Nobody needs 100 meetings with themselves every day, so start allocating specific times to check your inbox.

Stop, drop, Inbox-Pause - Take a break from your email by turning on Inbox-Pause. Seeing the unread emails pile up on your phone or computer causes unnecessary stress. Choose to only see your emails when you want to see them. That’s right, now you’re in control.

Call me maybe - Once you Inbox-Pause you may ask yourself, “What if it’s important and needs my immediate attention?” To this, we say, “If it’s important, phone”. Start by asking your team or department to phone you if it’s urgent. This will allow emails and slack messages to become a record-keeping feed, but not a call to anxiety. Once you’re into the habit, invite your clients to do the same and test the fresh waters of effective communication.

Left on read - Shock horror, not every email needs a reply. And if it does, it doesn’t need to be the next best-selling novel. Short, sweet and to the point. After all, this is for business (we’d hope), so keep it concise.

With all that said, email in itself has become a necessary evil. The answer to better productivity may not lie in just sorting out your inbox folders, but steering away from relying on back and forth emails altogether.

All About the Apps

The working world churns out around 269 billion emails every day with only 3.7 billion active email users. That’s 72.7 emails per user… we’d rather not. Email has been ingrained in every office for decades and is still seen as one of the most effective forms of communication between professionals. But what if it’s not?

Millennials are constantly challenging working norms and the need for digital transformation is becoming more and more essential for company longevity. With that in mind, Inbox Zero may not be the productivity hero it claims to be. Whilst helping to organise communication it doesn’t address the underlying issue of email itself - it’s outdated.

Moving communication to dedicated apps may be the answer to workplace productivity struggles. Instead of focusing on cleaning up one platform, simply shift areas of work to different places.

Some of our top app picks are:

Slack - Instant messaging platform for teams

Trello - Task and project management app

Microsoft Teams - Communication and collaboration platform

Asana - Organises, tracks and manages team tasks and projects

Google Drive - Storage, synchronisation and file sharing

Hootsuite - Social media management platform

Shifting communication and certain business protocols to dedicated apps may allow for a smoother workflow and ultimately improved productivity. We’re also seeing businesses shift client communication to Slack or even WhatsApp, in a bold move to get away from email. Clients can see changes in real-time and teams can respond with the click of a button (or even an emoji), rather than a long-winded email.

If you’re rocking back and forth whispering “I don’t need more apps, I don’t need more apps, I don’t need more apps”, then we’re here to flip the argument on its head and put it in a new light. You’re not succumbing to more apps, instead, you are categorising and prioritising. Call if it’s important, Slack if it can wait a little and Email if it’s official, for reference or just for the record.

Making the move to better productivity in line with ever-developing technology is proving to change the way businesses communicate and eventually operate. This change stems from a shift in the generational majority of the workforce from Baby Boomers to Millennials (yes, we’re now a majority).

So whilst Inbox Zero may seem like the ultimate goal in productivity, our current working environment yearns for something more dynamic. Let’s not strive for zero, but work towards prioritising effective processes.

What do you think? Is Inbox Zero still a relevant workplace goal or will apps take over communication and task management? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Kind Regards,

The JA. Team