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December 9, 2020
Dec 9, 2020

How to get to inbox zero before the 1st of January

Liselot Hofman
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get to inbox zero

Let's start with a question: what impact does your inbox have on your time and attention?

I'll be transparent here. With 200+ unopened emails and over 15 incoming emails a day, my inbox distracts me more than I would like to admit.

When trying to find a solution to this problem, I stumbled upon the inbox zero method. I tried it and won a lot of my time back.

Even though its name may suggest otherwise, this method is not really about having 0 emails in your inbox. Inbox zero is about the amount of time you spend on your inbox when you should be doing something else.

So, are you ready for some email management 2.0? Here's how you can get there before the 1st of January.

Inbox zero - the concept

What is it?

Merlin Mann, who introduced inbox zero in 2007, pointed out our most precious possession: our time and attention. The problem is that there is no end to how much people can ask of it. Whether it's via email, chat, or by ringing your doorbell, there is always someone asking for a little bit of our time.

Inbox zero gives you guidelines you can use to give zero attention to those triggers while you're doing something else. It's about managing your email by managing your time.

What is it not?

So, we now know the big 0 is not a reference to the number of emails in your inbox. So please don't start dragging, dropping, and deleting all of the emails in there.

Of course, inbox zero will also provide you with some tips you can use for managing your inbox. But let's make clear that that is not the main focus.

Why you should get to inbox zero

It's time to take back ownership of your own time and attention. At least, that's what I intend to do.

Here's why you should get to inbox zero:

  • To spend your time more efficiently with full attention to whatever it is you're doing;
  • To focus on your most important projects, deliverables, and deadlines that are integral to your workday;
  • To see email as a medium, not as your master.

I think the last benefit sums it all up.

Become an inbox hero with inbox zero

What better way to manage your inbox than by wearing a red cape and holding your fist up high?

I will share four tips on how to become an inbox hero with inbox zero:

1. Set realistic goals

I quote Merlin Mann: "You have no right to expect of yourself things that you have never done before."

The fact we want to change our email habits doesn't mean we have to stop them cold turkey.

For example: if you find it very useful to respond to emails on your phone, don't delete the app on a whim. You can think of more realistic goals, such as turning off email notifications on your phone.

This way, you can still work on emails the way you're used to, but you're making progress in not getting an overkill of notifications.

2. Limit your inbox time

If you're not using your email, close the inbox. Seeing those notifications in the corner of your eye does not help you to stay focused.

Instead, schedule a specific period of the day when you put all your attention on your inbox. For example, I check my inbox every morning before my first team meeting. It takes me 30 minutes to answer, discuss, or assign all new emails in my inbox to a colleague.

By limiting my inbox time to 30 minutes in the morning, I start my working day with full attention to my most important tasks.

limit your inbox time to get to inbox zero

3. Share your limitations

We all experience the pressure of being available every hour of every day. It's something we grew into - but nobody really asked you to. Right? Time to get rid of this pressure.

It starts with sharing your limitations with all of your contacts. Don't feel ashamed about it. Chances are that they will only admire you for it. Maybe you'll even start a small inbox zero revolution. Who knows.

A few limitations you can communicate:

  • Ask your colleague to get you out of the CC list for a project you're not a part of;
  • Tell your contacts about your scheduled inbox time;
  • Ask colleagues to approach you only between business hours;
  • Ask family and friends to only contact you outside of business hours.

And then there is also the case of show don't tell:

  • Don't reply to out-of-office emails and messages until the next workday;
  • Don't start a conversation or respond to family and friends between 9 and 5;
  • Only respond to emails during your scheduled inbox time.

After sharing these limitations, I'm sure you will already experience a huge relief.

4. Process to zero

Alright, this is where it comes to getting your inbox to zero. Well, it doesn't really have to hit zero, as long as you're trying.

According to Merlin Mann, you should always take action by doing one of the following things:


Delete or archive unwanted newsletters, advertisements, or any other types of unwanted emails.

Tip: unsubscribe from newsletters first. Otherwise, you'll stay in the loop of receiving and deleting them.


In case you're not the right person to answer the email, forward it to someone else's inbox.

assign conversation to get to inbox zero


If possible, respond to emails right away. As Merlin Mann says: keep the ball rolling.


You can defer the email in case you need to answer it another time. In this case, please let your contact know that you'll get back to it later.


If you get an email with, for example, a meeting invitation: take action and don't leave it hanging in your inbox. Schedule the appointment on your calendar.

This action will help you avoid using your inbox as a calendar or to-do-list.

New year, new me

After reading this blog, you are one step closer to becoming an inbox hero. Or should I say: becoming your own hero.

Standing up for your own time and attention will not only help you manage your email but will also help you in your day-to-day life.

I wish you the best of luck with getting to inbox zero before the 1st of January. Remember: we're in this together. 💪

Liselot Hofman
Written by

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