Project Management

Inbox Zero: The Art of Email Management

They say inbox zero is nothing but a pipedream...well, with this handy guide, we'll help make sure the only thing in your inbox is tumbleweed.

Inbox zero is a drastic approach to email management – created by Merlin Mann, the methodology behind inbox zero is to reduce your inbox to nothing (or next to nothing) so that “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.”, is as limited as possible. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily humdrum of emails which can lead down a rabbit-hole of distraction, so inbox zero can increase productivity across a team.

In almost all professions and job roles out there, the chances are you’ll have an email address and an abundance of incoming messages. However, this is perhaps no truer than within a marketing agency. As well as the usual spam emails no one wants, agencies often receive emails from several parties at once; clients, stakeholders, team members… everyone and their dog. Watching the inbox number climb further and further away from the wholesome zero may be discouraging, so we’ve put together some tips that turn our inboxes into zero (and you into a hero).

1) Eat, Sleep, Delete

They say that practice makes perfect, and they’re right. The success of any task lies in repetition – continual and thorough undertakings of the same objective over and over again simply allows that person to hone their craft. Well, checking your emails and deleting them is no different. We’re not saying the best way to get to inbox zero is to delete everything (although that is one way to achieve it ?), but deleting what you don’t need right off the bat is a good start. If you’re starting your day with 100 emails, but 75% are spam (I’ve inherited millions of pounds from a long lost relative you say…), well clear those out and you can focus your attention on what really matters.

2) A quick courtesy goes a long way

Emails are not like a fine wine – there’s no use in letting them sit on the shelf and allowing them to age. But at the same time, there are just some questions that you can’t answer there and then, and trying to do so would scupper your schedule for the day. Queue the wonderfully quick acknowledgement email. Most of the time, a client or colleague just wants to know you’ve got the email and you’re on the case, and there’s no better way to do that than with said courtesy email. A simple “thanks, I’m on it” can buy you the time you need to investigate and come back with the proper answers – but we’d always recommend setting expectation and letting the recipient of the email know when you’ll likely be back in touch. Once you’ve sent this, you can snooze/hide the email and get it to pop back into your inbox at a time when you can respond adequately. Tools like Missive (mentioned in our Herdl’s Top Project Management Tools blog) come with this functionality, so they’re perfect for giving you that flexibility.

3) I’m not the droid you’re looking for

There may be the odd email in your inbox that, although you’d love to help with, would be better answered by a colleague in your team – that’s ok. Just like the quick courtesy above, you can respond to that email to let that person know the “almighty and all-powerful (insert colleagues name here)” will be in touch. Then, you can rest easy knowing you’ve brought your colleague some time, but more importantly, taken one step closer to that elusive empty inbox.

4) Because knowledge is power

The opposite to the quick courtesy, you may have some emails that you can answer there and then with relative ease and speed – well, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” For one to truly align themselves with inbox zero, this step is key. It’s easy to put these types of emails off and come back to them later – but it’s best to tackle them there and then, as a cat in amongst the pigeons (or project manager in amongst the emails).

5) Schedule in time to check emails throughout the day and not a minute more

Completing the above four steps at the start of each day is excellent – “but what about those emails that come in throughout the day?” we hear you ask. Well, don’t neglect these, but instead, get into a routine of only checking your emails and repeating each step at allotted points in the day. Depending on the frequency of your emails (and your popularity), this could be either a couple of times a day or at the start of each hour – it’s up to you! What’s important is, when you’re in your emails, you follow the steps to spend as little time as you can getting caught up in it all.

6) Sit back, look smug and brag to everyone

Congratulations, your inbox is at zero, and you’re a certified email guru. The last thing left to do is call all your friends and family to recite your heroic efforts so you can hear them praise your exemplary email management.


If at this point, you’ve still got emails in your inbox, it’s ok. The “zero” in inbox zero isn’t representative of how many emails you have, but more the time you spend managing them. Emails are significant in any role, and especially in project management, so some will take time to craft and send – but that’s alright. What’s important is practising a routine that will prevent you from getting pulled into emails for long periods. Try the above steps – because if you were to ask us how many emails we had in our inbox right now, we’d confidently tell you zero ?.

If you’d like to discuss our approach in more detail or interested in any of our marketing services, please contact us.

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