Inbox 0.5 - How to get to an empty inbox - Emailers Anonymous
Sometimes when we get overly focused on the end goal we make our task seem impossible, and it doesn't need to be. There's a simple formula you can follow that will help you meet your goal of an empty inbox. If you decide to follow it, your inbox won't be empty today, or even tomorrow, but in a matter of days, most likely less than a week, it will.
It's called Inbox 0.5. The idea is to ensure that you get through at least half of the emails you are facing. Here's how it works:
It's day one, and you're looking at 700 emails staring you in the face first thing in the morning. It's your task to get down to 350 by the end of the day. It sounds hard, but here's the thing. Most of that email is bulk mail subscriptions and the like, or simply out of date. If you can group or sort based on email subject or thread, do so - it will help you dispose of a huge number of emails once you've caught up to date with the most recent one.
It seems like a lot (and it is), but you'll probably find that getting through the first 350 messages is the easiest batch you will face.
Keep in mind that you'll be receiving messages throughout the day, so you're probably actually dealing with something like 400 messages, but that's okay, the efficiency of doing a first round of purging still applies.
So let's assume you've made it - it's the end of the day, and you're sitting right at 350 messages left. Congratulations! Go home before any more come in.
Now the next morning, you arrive, and for the sake of round numbers, let's say you received 10 messages overnight, and are now facing 360. Your goal is now to end the day with 180.
Since I'm sure you're sensing the pattern here now, let's have a look at how many days you have to do this before you reach the nirvana of an empty inbox. For the sake of argument, let's assume you receive 10 emails per night:
So obviously by day ten you've reached a point of diminishing returns. But realistically, will it take ten days before you just look at the last twenty messages and decide to get them dealt with? Of course not. Twenty messages is nothing for someone who managed to take care of 700 in just a week.
So there you have it, a systematic method for getting from a ton of email to a clean inbox, without the overwhelm of feeling like you have to do it all at once.
If this method seems a little silly to you, keep in mind that as the days wear on and you're dealing with less and less messages, you're also dealing with harder and harder messages. They're the ones that are still there after you get rid of all the easy stuff.
For the ambitious of you out there, rather than taking this on a day-by-day basis, consider using the Inbox 0.5 rule for each email processing session you perform, assuming you process email more than once per day. This concept isn't going to work for someone who subscribes to Tim Ferris's concept of only processing email a few times per week; in that case the math just isn't going to work in your favor.
If you're looking for some good systems on how to deal with these messages beyond simply deciding to get through half of them in a sitting, check out Merlin Mann's classic Inbox Zero series, which was the inspiration for this post.