Inbox Zero is a concept developed by Merlin Mann, the cre­ator of 43fold​ers​.com. Mann took some of the ideas expressed in David Allen’s famous book Getting Things Done and brought them into the digital age.

I just finished reading Getting Things Done and it is a great book. The only problem is it was written in 2003 and Allen discusses creating paper files, using post it notes and label makers. It is really interesting to me that a book only 10 years old has references to Palm Pilots, which seems as quaint as references to dogged dustbowl farmers made by Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People, which was written in 1936.

Since then, of course, an entire industry has been built around Allen’s ideas, and yes, there’s an app for that. Actually dozens of apps for that.

Allen’s Getting Things Done concept starts with Stuff. Stuff can be an e-mail arriving in your Outlook, a budget meeting, your idea to start a novel, or a bake sale for the local P.T.A.

The Stuff first goes in your Inbox, which Allen describes as a physical one. Allen developed a flow chart to describe the initial stages of organization, which is shown below.

You then have to decide what the Stuff is and whether it is Actionable. If the Stuff is not actionable it gets (a) Trashed, (b) put in a Someday/Maybe tickler file or (c) kept as Reference material.

If the Stuff is actionable you first have to decide whether it can be done in two minutes or less. If that is a yes, do it. If the Stuff is not actionable, you (a) Delegate it (a personal favorite) or (b) Defer it.

Merlin Mann took this notion and applied it to e-mail. I have been using it for a while now it it works like a charm. Here is my version:

An e-mail arrives. I decide what it is and whether it is actionable. If the e-mail is not actionable, I simply delete it, knowing that between the built-in search function in Windows and Google Desktop Search I can find the item later by entering some keywords. However, if it is a Someday / Maybe item, I might flag it for follow up at a future date with a reminder. Most e-mail programs have a flag feature that works just fine. If the item is a Reference item, I may clip it to Evernote, the world’s most amazing program, which I will talk about more in a future post.

Now here’s where things really get good. If the e-mail is actionable, I decide whether it can be done in two minutes or less. You would be surprised how much falls in this category and how fast you can get rid of pesky little items and, “clear your mental RAM”, as Allen describes it. Plus people are shocked and awed by your responsiveness.

If the item takes longer than two minutes, I can Defer it by putting it on my Calendar (I have public and private iCloud calendars) or my To Do list (lately I am using Nozbe, but the jury is still out). You can also Delegate the item by forwarding it to someone else, in my case to someone on my crack staff. Delegated items can also be flagged for follow up.

You know what it great? I don’t have to remember anything, the system remembers for me, which is incredibly stress-reducing.

I have been using this system on my e-mail Inbox for several weeks now, and yes, I am able to zero it out virtually every day.

How do you handle your e-mail volume? Do you have a better way or tweaks that might interest others? Please share!