An Admin’s Guide to Inbox Zero

Jan 23, 2019 | Organization

An Admin’s Guide to Inbox Zero How many emails do you have in your inbox right now? 20? 50? More than 100? If your number is anything more than zero, I have some tips for you!

For most admins, email is a major pain point. In the time it takes you to read one email, three more pop up. Add that to all your other administrative duties, and the thought of a clean inbox seems almost laughable. But these simple strategies can make inbox zero a reality!

Change Your Mindset

Think of your inbox as a processing facility rather than a warehouse. The “package” (the email, in this case) is sent to the “facility” (your inbox) to be dealt with, not stored indefinitely.

If it’s possible to act on an email immediately, do it. Do you have a calendar invite for a meeting? Click “Accept” to automatically move it to your calendar. You’ll still be able to view the email in its entirety on your calendar, but it’ll no longer waste precious space in your inbox.

Did the invitation come in message format? No problem! Utilize the “move” feature to convert it to an appointment.

Tasks work the same way. Did you just get an email from your executive asking you to submit the budget report next Tuesday? Move it to a task. This gets the email out of your inbox while attaching the message to your master to-do list.

Pro Tip: When you drag (instead of move) a task in Microsoft Outlook, the original message is copied to your task list, but not included as an attachment. If you need to follow up on a task via email, it’s better to move rather than drag.

Move Emails to a Shared Network Folder

At most companies, storage space is a precious commodity. Some cap the number of messages you can have in your inbox; others ask you to police yourself, which can work to your own detriment when you’re facing an overflowing inbox and the frustration that comes along with it.

Instead of leaving those messages in your inbox, save space (and sanity) by moving them to a shared network folder with the rest of your project files. Outlook uses a .msg extension to convert emails to documents that you can open just like you would any other file. The information in the message is saved — and so is the email storage space!

Set the “Rules” as You Go

You likely get emails each day that are important to you, but not critical to your job — newsletters, advertising circulars, LinkedIn updates, etc. Rules allow you to automate the sorting process, regulating this type of communication to a separate folder that you specify. It’s still there when you want it, but it’s not popping up in your inbox, hogging space, and distracting you from other tasks.

Start Fresh

Knowing how to process the email as you go is all well and good, but what should you do with the messages that are already in your inbox? Just the thought of sorting through that mess can sap your energy. How will you ever get it all sorted?

The answer? Start with a clean slate!

Move all the email in your inbox to a new folder named “old inbox.” Take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief — doesn’t a clean inbox feel great? Just emptying your inbox can give you a new perspective, and help you feel more motivated to keep it empty moving forward.

Unfortunately, your work isn’t done yet. Those old emails may be out of your inbox, but you still need to deal with them.

Sort your emails by name and start deleting chunks of non-important clutter. Clearing entire blocks of email with one click can be cathartic!

Now, sort your archived messages by date. Is there anything important in there that you need to deal with immediately? Convert it to a task or a calendar appointment. Go back about a month — more if you have time, but 30 days is usually all that’s needed to weed out the crucial missives. And since you didn’t delete anything, you can refer back to the folder if need be.

Focus on the Future

Once you achieve inbox zero, you need to have a plan to keep it that way! It’s all too easy to slip back into bad habits — I know this from personal experience!

Vow to never end the day with an email in your inbox. This doesn’t mean that you’ve dealt with each and every email — for an admin, that’s a nearly impossible feat. Instead, it means that you have efficiently and effectively processed the messages and staged them in your task list for what needs to happen next.

Create good habits for the future. Unsubscribe from (or create rules for) all those newsletters, advertisements, and promotional emails. Shut off all unnecessary social media notifications. Do everything you can to avoid more junk piling up in your newly emptied inbox.

When you slip up — and you will probably slip up a time or two before your new email management strategy becomes a habit — be kind to yourself. It’s just as easy to get back on track as it was to get off, and feeling defeated won’t help the situation. Instead, try to identify your triggers. What happened and why? Were you dealing with a nearly impossible workload? Were you overwhelmed with email after returning from vacation?
Did your personal life interfere with your ability to keep up with your inbox?

When you identify the triggers that cause email disorganization, it’s easier for you to plan for them in the future.

Creating a successful email management system puts you in control of your inbox, rather than the other way around. It makes you more productive and effective as an admin.

Action items and calendar appointments no longer slip through the cracks. And you feel the relief every time you see your empty inbox. The habit of inbox zero may not happen overnight, but the time and discipline you put into developing this habit is more than worth it!

How do you manage your email? Share your story with us at!


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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity, and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures. 

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