You see, I have three different inboxes configured within my Apple Mail – my main Gemba Academy inbox, my personal Gmail inbox, and an inbox I use for all of my kids various activities (sports, etc.).
All of them are at 0… which, to be honest, is incredible since I have long struggled with my email.
Like many of you I’m sure, I get A LOT of email each day. I don’t know exactly how many, nor do I care to count and average them… let’s just say it’s a lot!
So, how did I do it? Are there secret apps? Did I read a special book?
Well, my goal with this article to explore exactly what I’ve done in hopes of helping me gain clarity on what’s worked and what hasn’t… and, hopefully, help anyone that wants to get to inbox zero (and isn’t there already) make it happen!
Also, in true lean style, I plan to share the problems I was facing and how I attempted to counter them.
Problem 1: Using My Inbox as a To Do List
First, I used to use my inbox as a to do list. In other words, if I got an email I needed to act on but didn’t have time I’d leave it in my inbox until I could act on it.
Sound familiar? I’m guessing many of you can relate.
This was a slippery slope and, soon, I’d have dozens of emails piled up.
Countermeasure 1: Parking Lot Folder
The first countermeasure I did was to create a parking lot folder. This folder is where I place emails that need to be acted on but couldn’t be acted on immediately for whatever reason.
Each day at 3:00 PM I look in this folder and attempt to clear out as many of them as possible. If I don’t clear it out the email stays in the folder. Once I do complete the action I delete the email.
I have actually created a recurring event in my calendar to remind me to visit the folder each day at 3:00 PM.
I also have a kanban white board hanging next to my desk that allows me to document important actions on post it notes making the action more visible.
Countermeasure 2: Take Action
The second, and most important, countermeasure I took was to simply take immediate action on as many emails as possible.
In some cases this means doing it myself. In other cases it might mean forwarding the email to one of my incredible Gemba Academy team members.
But, whenever possible, once action is taken I delete the email from my inbox.
Problem 2: I Struggled to Delete Emails
I’m not sure what my problem is with deleting emails… but it scares me. I mean what if I need an email 2 months from now and don’t have it?
Countermeasure 1: 3 Questions
The first countermeasure I took to battle this email deletion fear was to silently ask myself the following question:
If I needed this email in the future and couldn’t find it…
- Would my family be in danger or at risk?
- Would Gemba Academy customers be at risk?
- Would Gemba Academy’s business be at risk?
This may sound simplistic… but these three questions have radically changed the way I look at emails.
Now, full disclosure… since I use Gmail for my personal emails I don’t really ever delete those emails. Instead I archive them. But, in the end, they aren’t in my inbox which is my goal!
Countermeasure 2: File Emails as Needed
Now, if there are really important emails that need to be saved I do have folders created. My goal is to review each folder once a month to do a little 5S and re-ask the 3 questions to see if they can be deleted.
Problem 3: I Got Too Many Emails
Next, like most folks I simply get a lot of unnecessary email. And by unnecessary I mean it really adds no value to me, my family, or business.
Countermeasure 1: Unsubscribe
The first thing I did to counter this issue was to unsubscribe from newsletters I don’t find value in.
Now, to be sure, I am still subscribed to several newsletters that I find value in. So, if you’re a Gemba Academy newsletter subscriber don’t get any crazy ideas about unsubscribing! Ha!
Countermeasure 2: Asked to Only Be Copied on Critical Emails
Next, I have done my best to respectfully request people only email me when they really need me to know about something or take action on something.
This is a big change for me since, in the past, I’ll admit I was a bit of a control freak and I wanted to know about everything going on at Gemba Academy as well as anything related to things like my kids soccer teams or son’s Jiu-Jitsu team!
Countermeasure 3: Email Rules
I also get a lot of emails from things like Facebook or LinkedIn comments or when potential Gemba Academy customers sign up for a free preview account.
Since the subject line is always the same I have folders created that keep these emails from landing in my inbox.
Instead, they go to appropriate folders that get reviewed and cleaned out right after my parking lot folder is reviewed at 3:00 PM.
Still a Work in Process and I Want Your Advice
So, these are some of the things I have done to maintain inbox zero. To be sure, this is a work in process and I am not presuming my system is perfect.
As such, I’d REALLY like to hear from you. What do you like about my approach? What don’t you like? What would you suggest I do differently or try?
My goal is to update this article as I fine tune my process so be sure to bookmark this page if you’re interested in following my progress!
Finally, if you are at inbox zero on a regular basis how do you do it?