News Flash: Team has Zero In-box for One Month

In the past, doing email has never been a source of energy and delight for our team. Now it is. We use to spend hours a day sifting through hundreds of messages looking for actionable items, or scrolling down a long, complicated taxonomy of folders trying to accurately file something. Going away on a holiday or even a short work trip brought the dread of a whole day spent trying to get back on top of our email. Not anymore… Our team of four has now had a zero in-box for a month!

A zero in-box doesn’t mean that you have no email at all to do, but it means that you have made a decision about every single item that has come into your in-box and moved it to its next action (Action Needed, Reply, Follow-up, Explore, Archive). We delete more, we are more careful what we send, and a few of us have adopted the five.sentenc.es promise and added it to our electronic signature. I find now that I am able to keep to five sentence responses now most of the time (I would be happy to graduate to four.sentenc.es sometime this year.)

Now we talk about email to anyone who will listen with the energy and enthusiasm of people who have mastered a new technique which we feel has increased our productivity, as well as boosted our sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This feeling of success at the end of each day, I believe, is what keeps me on top of this new system. And the fact that I was able to learn a new way of working that has replaced an entrenched behaviour that I have had for over 10 years. I have noticed that I am getting more things done now, I certainly feel more organized and less a slave to my computer.

We plan to hold a short workshop in house in the next months to share with people what we are learning about zero-in box. How we have adapted it to our own needs, and where we still see some room for improvement and innovation (like how do you get yourself to go back to the “Explore” folder!) Productivity is satisfying and of course there are many different ways to improve this in the workplace – the Onion had another suggestion about how to do this yesterday…

3 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:


    I like the Zero-inbox concept for work as a call to action to get things done faster!

    The longer messages sit in our inbox the less effective the response. I have had a zero inbox for my personal email for several weeks and it feels great and I have less things “up in the air”.

    You have inspired me to take a few minutes/hours over the Thanksgiving weekend here in Michigan to do the same for my work inbox.

    Keep up the great blog!

  2. Gillian
    Gillian says:

    Thanks so much for the comment – I totally agree that this approach helps keep email “active” and queued up for action, rather than of variable merit on a long scroll-through list. I did find it useful to have both work and home at zero-inbox. And you really have to keep on top of it, or it quickly becomes two separate systems. That sounds like a great Thanksgiving project!

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Well, it took me 90 minutes but I got through my 3500 emails yesterday. I now have about a dozen emails in my todo folder which I will follow-up on next week.

    I feel great and have renewed energy. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Jeff in Michigan

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