Project Management

The Zero Inbox

We’ve all seen email inboxes that have 1000s of unread emails. Having so many open items can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress and can result in missing time sensitive information. As a project manager, one of my primary goals is to support others in staying organized and keeping myself organized so I am on top of everything going on. One way of doing this is through the Zero Inbox method.

The Zero Inbox method can be closely tied to Lean principles by utilizing the 4Ds to keep your inbox clean. The 4Ds include: Do It, Delegate It, Delay It and Dump It. There is a lot of research done on this topic but this is how it has best worked for me. You’ll notice if you continue to research that the names of the 4Ds may change, but the overall principle stays the same.

Do It When you go through your emails during the day, open each email and instantly take action if possible. If someone emailed you asking a question or looking for approval, take the few minutes needed and get the action accomplished. This will make sure that you are never the blocker for those on the other end. We understand we all have busy schedules, but if we take a moment to unblock someone it can keep a lot more moving throughout the day.

Delegate It If you are not the best suited for the email, take action and forward it to someone else with an introduction and quick summary of what is needed. Try to avoid saying “per the previous email, what are your thoughts”. Instead, summarize this to save the person on the other end some time. No one likes to read a full email chain to get caught up! Write a summary and provide a clear set of action items needed for the person we are delegating this to.

Delay It I have to admit I love having zero items in my inbox but at times we have to delay the action. I often use my inbox as my To Do list, so when I delay an email it creates a clear set of action items for myself. I often get emails with new contracts coming through, so I take action by doing what will take me 10 minutes to do but unblocks our accounting team and let’s them move forward with processing the new client. If I did not take the time to onboard the contract, our accounting team would need to wait to do their part until I did mine. When I have more time, I go back to the read email in my inbox and schedule all of the internal activities needed to get this project going…often this action can wait until I have a block of time to focus on it. But, as soon as I get all the pieces done, the read email gets moved to my contract folder.

Dump It This is one of my favorite actions, it is super quick and is what makes my inbox look stress free. There are two ways to think about this stage. One, dump it into the trash because I know I will never need this email or two, dump it into the correct folder within my email. This step is important to take because even if you do the three steps above, if this final one is not taken you will never have an empty inbox.

I can say with experience that taking quick action on emails will reduce stress in your day. Keeping your inbox empty will make you feel totally caught up. Give this a try and remember to follow the 4 steps of Do It, Delegate It, Delay It and finally Dump it.

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