Episode 86 – Inbox Zero

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast, I dive into the beast that is email & share ways to ensure you’re able to effectively managed the overwhelm you likely feel. We also touch on the concept of Inbox Zero & the various ways you can achieve this each and everyday.

Tools & Resources shared include

  1. Delete, Delegate, Reply & Defer
  2. Follow Up Then
  3. Active Inbox

Press play to listen to the episode below or listen here. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here


[00:00:28] Jarrod Robinson: Hello everyone and welcome to episode number 86 of the PE Geek Podcast and as always it’s a pleasure to have you here.

Now I’m really excited today because I’m going to share a little bit of insight into a particular topic that I think impacts all of us and that is e-mail and in particular how you can manage it so that it doesn’t become the burden that we tend to view email as. Over the last sort of five years or so


the volume of e-mails that I’ve received has just steadily increased and you know it got to a point where it felt like I lived in my e-mail inboxes and, you know, when you’re living in your e-mail inbox there’s things that you’re ultimately not doing and I like to think of e-mail as the to-do list that other people give you. And if you think about that every time someone e-mails you it’s probably because they want you to do something or you need to do


something or whatever. So, essentially it is like the to-do list that other people give you.

But, it’s a massive problem. And, you know, it’s a communication medium that is so deeply rooted in how we still communicate now. There’s a lot of value in email. But it’s also something that’s been exploited immensely by businesses and organizations and schools and so on to the point where non-essential communication starts to get delivered through it


and that means that we ultimately end up with even more overwhelm and it just becomes a complete mess. And you add in the fact that we’ve got all these mobile devices that are likely have our e-mail accounts connected to them and even when you want to disconnect it’s almost impossible because, you know, you’re being alerted to them and there’s more and more emails and it just becomes an absolute flood of overwhelm and it takes us away


from the thing that we do best, which is actually working with students one on one and we end up spending more time dealing with the thought of using, working with students and actually doing it through these different communication mediums with email probably being the biggest abused of all.

So, in this particular episode I wanted to break down the systems I use, some of the processes I use and some of the tools I use that help me take


the sheer number of e-mails I receive and minimize them and so that every single day I log into my e-mail inbox and I’m literally sitting at inbox zero.

Alright, great so what is inbox zero you might be thinking? And it is a little bit of an elusive term to be honest. A lot of people say it’s not possible. However, with a different


mindset it absolutely is. But essentially it is the idea that your inbox, your immediate inbox that you log into has zero items in it across the, at the end of your work day or whenever that may be for you.

So, throughout the course of the day my email inbox will go from zero which it always is overnight to around about sort of


ten to fifteen items and then on to thirty items and then it’ll always shrink back down to zero by the days end and it’s not because of some magical tool that I’m using that makes this possible. It’s from a very structured and simple process that anyone can follow that really helps me organize the day and my responses in e-mails and it definitely makes for a much better experience in this thing


that can take up so much time and attention.

Now, you might be sitting there thinking well what’s the point, inbox zero why would I inspire to even have that. But we are pretty busy in our profession, we’ve got so many different hats that we have to juggle, so many different things we need to think about. And I see it time and time again when people email me and say, I’d really like to be able to attend that webinar


but I feel like I need to put my bed in the office because I’m spending so much time there. Or I am just am swamped in e-mails and I missed that thing that you sent earlier on and this is a massive problem. And every single piece of communication that exists in e-mail is a conscious connection that you have to whatever that thing is that’s being e-mailed about. And absolutely if it’s sitting in your inbox you have to spend a lot


of your own personal bandwidth on just remembering the fact that it’s there for you to act on. And I mean there’s nothing worse than logging into your e-mail inbox and you open it up and you see there’s a thousand unread items and you don’t even know where to begin. And you probably end up doing nothing and you go away and procrastinate and then people e-mail because you haven’t done that thing. So there’s a direct correlation with this inbox zero which is absolutely achievable and


how well you feel about doing the various tasks, how productive you feel, how happy you are to work through. And the systems and procedures I’m going to share with you have helped me get to that point.

And before we sort of dive in I just want to point out the fact that we have a fixed capacity, some people say that if they had more hours in the day that they would be able to get more done. Obviously that’s not possible reality we have 168 hours per week,


something has to give and as a result we want to try and minimize through systems and procedures as much as we can so that we can maximize the time that we actually have.

So to dive into it, the basic premise of inbox zero, like I said is that at the end of every single day you have a clear inbox. Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t things that you still need to do or act on, that’s a big misconception. Because obviously sometimes


you send an email and you’re still waiting for a reply. So you wouldn’t want to delete that from your inbox because then you might forget that there’s a reply to be caught up on. So it’s not that at its core. It’s the system and procedure that means that the inbox doesn’t work as the to-do list for those things to take place. And there’s a really big array of tools that make it entirely possible. But the basis of this is that


you follow a system and procedure so that every time an email arrives in your inbox there’s a serious of steps that you take to deal with that particular thing, whether it’s an e-mail from a colleague, and e-mail from a parent, an e-mail from your superiors, your admin, whatever it may be that the process is the same and at the very end of your day you have reached inbox zero and that the


systems and procedures are taking care of all of those things that are left to do. So enough of the sort of reasoning behind why, what do I do and what do many people do, because this isn’t a system that I invented it’s merely one I adopted and to be honest it’s been life changing and the people that I directly work with to introduce this into their practice, in our coaching programs and so on who have also said the same thing.

So, the very first action that you want to do when an email hits your inbox is


decide whether or not it’s even worth responding to. Now, the very first action is delete. So there’s a series of acronym that you can follow and the very first word is delete. So obviously that’s not applicable to the email that gets sent by your admin or by a colleague or by a parent. You’re not going to be able to do that at this stage. You are probably going to have to go down to the next step. But for many emails that you receive delete may be appropriate and you can save


yourself a lot of time zapping attention and overwhelm by simply doing it when you see it. So you log into your inbox and you do a quick scan through and you realize that there are four emails in there, they are the latest specials relevant to the e-commerce store that you shop at, maybe you don’t need at them at this particular point in time delete, delete, delete. There’s your first step, done.

The next step


that you would move to if delete was not appropriate was delegate and delegate is something that you probably realize happens quite a lot with email exchanges where you might get asked a question and you’re probably not appropriate for that particular reply or you don’t know the full answers or the full details. Rather than going around behind the scenes and finding out from the person forward it to the person who actually does know the answer


and here you can see how email becomes a to-do list of other people. But you should absolutely be comfortable with doing that, delegating out email, the replies for e-mails to people who are more knowledgeable. So an example of what that might look like might be that you have an e-mail from a parent who’s asking a question around the after school sports programs and they think because you’re a phys ed teacher that you can answer it and


you might sort of try and answer it but the better thing to do would be to forward that to the person who absolutely can do it and hopefully they’ve got systems and procedures in place to deal with e-mail, likely they don’t but for you the process is as follows delete and then delegate.

And that gets us to our third spot. So if after you’ve deleted and delegated the things that can be done there’s still going to be emails left over and the very


next one that’s probably pretty obvious is that you respond, and I see it time and time again where people will open up emails that we send to them and we’re sort of asking for a reply quite immediately and we don’t get it and their reply isn’t by any means difficult or requires you to research anything, it’s just a short reply that you could do on the spot and people tend to not to do it, they just tend to


do it, put it in their busy basket for later and never come back to it and again it piles up and they get overwhelmed and then they log in their e-mail inbox with the intention to reply to those things and there’s 55 new things for them to deal with, so as soon as you have the option to respond you respond, that’s the commitment you make that you delay it, you reply then and there in the allotted time that you give yourself to refer to your e-mail and we’ll sort of go into


how I structure that later on. But, that’s a really important part of, part of the puzzle. But you need to respond as soon as you possibly can to the e-mail, not put it off.

Now, as soon as you have responded there is a couple of things that you can do. You can take that e-mail that’s sitting in your email inbox and move it to a new folder that you set up in your e-mail that is called awaiting reply, something along those lines.


So, you may have your email inbox where everything routes into and then you create a few other folders which you can do in any e-mail system and one of those folders is awaiting reply and another one is action or things like that. And as soon as you’ve responded to the e-mail that you receive you get rid of it by putting it into that different space that is not your inbox but your awaiting


reply folder or your action folder. And then you visit those folders every time you have an e-mail session and you then do the same process within each folder.

But, the basic idea is to get things out of inbox and get them into a system and a structure that makes sense. So for me, I use a tool to do this automatically and it’s called active inbox and you can go and download it and you can install it


for your Google G-mail accounts and if you’re in Outlook there are some similar tools if you just look for e-mail management tools. Basically, the idea is that when in active inbox you want to remember something you apply a date and action to that thing and then the software brings that to your attention on that date with the action that you were going to do.

So, I get to churn through my e-mails and


really sort of put them in the right subcategories of my inbox and then know that there’s nothing in my inbox for me to reply to. So, as soon as as that inbox is free, it’s at inbox zero I know that the systems and procedures in place are there to remind of when it is that I need to follow up something because I applied a date to it. But, even if you don’t use that particular tool you can achieve much of the same thing by responding straight away


and then once you’ve done that, putting it into a subfolder that’s a bit more contextual and then each time you use or open email you visit those subfolders and track the process.

The next response that you might do inside of your email to manage this overwhelm after you’ve deleted, after you’ve delegated, after you’ve responded is it may be appropriate that you have to defer something, you can’t always reply on the spot, maybe you need to do some


work associated with the reply, you’ve got to go and research something or speak to something or whatever that may be and you need a system in place for that. Now for me, I in active inbox can simply just add a date to the email and then it disappears from my inbox and then on that date it will appear again and I’m able to then chase up that particular item


because I’ve deferred to it to a time and place when I would be able to reply. But you can do the same thing even without that tool. You just have a folder called defer and if you need to reply later then you drag that email into the defer folder and it’s out of your inbox.

Now, this might seem stupid like why you, why would, why is there so much attention on clearing out the inbox and making it inbox zero.


That’s not really the point, the point of it, sure it’s nice to see that there’s no inbox items in your folder. The point is to get a little bit more organized with how we respond and deal with the email that gets presented to us and the folders help us organize and decompartmentalize that and for example your respond folder if all the emails that you have to reply to are added there then you go to the reply folder when the time or the day is


best for you to do replies, that might be the end of the day for you, you might be, that’s maybe all you’re capable of doing at that time or it might be in the morning when you’re fresh that you do your replies. So you can use these systems to help us segment your e-mail inbox and be able to approach it a little bit more smartly.

So that’s the basis of the procedure and like I said there are a lot of different tools that can assist you with that. One in particular is


a tool that you can use from any e-mail service that you use and it’s called Follow Up Then. And it’s really, it’s really appropriate for the defer part. So, let’s say that you can’t reply now, you need to reply in three days when something has happened then you simply forward that email that you receive, so your colleague emails you, you have to reply them back in three days because you need time then you forward that email


to 3days@followupthen basically and what happens is in three days’ time Follow Up Then will send you that email as if it was being sent from the original sender the first time so that it basically allows you to almost put a snooze button on emails that hit your inbox. So let’s say you had an email there


and you wanted to see it tomorrow. Then you would forward the email to [email protected] or if it was next Wednesday then you would say nextwednesday@followupthen or remind me every single day then send it to everyday@followupthen and Follow Up Then will return it to you at that agreed time.

Now, a couple of other little things that I tend to do to help me


get through as much email as possible include the following, and the very first tool is all about helping me delete unnecessary e-mails that hit my inbox. There will be heaps of them and it’s called unroll.me and unroll.me is a tool that you log into, you connect your email connections to them and it will scan your inbox and find all of the newsletters or


all of the articles and emails that you get sent to you via e-mail and it gives you one easy button to hit unsubscribe. Now if you use unroll.me please don’t unsubscribe from the PE Geek Podcasts or the PE Geek Newsletters. But if you did want to, there is another option that Unroll.me provides and it’s called add to the rollup. And what that means is that rather than getting one email from me and one email from all the other people that you subscribe to


you can have them all delivered to you as one e-mail. So it will basically sit in your inbox and as you get all these different newsletters from people it will combine them into one major weekly newsletter and send it to you and then you sort of saved yourself from a heap of other emails that you might have normally receive. So unroll.me is the article or the service that you want to check out.

Now, the next that I use a lot and you’ve probably


been victim to this if you have ever sent me an email and that is canned replies. Canned replies are possible in most automation or email tools and basically what they do is it’s a collection of e-mails that you send regularly. So for example a lot of people will e-mail me with the same questions, I probably get the email about how to use a big screen projector or a TV screen in


my classroom weekly. I probably get an email about the best apps for iPads or the best apps for Android and rather than sitting there and replying every single time with the same thing which takes time, I’ve got them saved as canned replies and I can press two buttons and that e-mail has been implemented and I can then hit reply and change a little bit to suit the person or what they’ve specifically asked and send.


And although it doesn’t seem like a lot of time and attention it does because a lot of the time e-mail we send are the same thing over and over. So find a way to capture your canned replies that you normally would do into a sort of library of the replies that you use most often and you’ll find that you save some time there.

The second thing that I think is just so fantastic how easy it works now is to speak your replies. Now,


it might not sound very logical, but if you get an email these days on any sort of mobile device or even on Macbooks then you can easily hit the dictation button which is in the bottom of your keyboards in most devices and you can just speak your replies, native Speaking and you’ll be amazed at how good it is these days for quick replies, if you need to just do a couple of


sentences, you wouldn’t want to sit there and dictate an entire thousand word email, that’s really probably not the best use of time, although it would work really well. You would just have to go back and fix up things, but for super quick replies while on the go I use the speak replies a lot and I didn’t think it worked really well until someone explained to me and I thought I will test this and they were right. It’s come


a long way in a very short period of time and it’s made it, it’s made it so much easier to communicate while on the go. So, I certainly encourage you to head over there and try that out.

Now, as we wrap up this episode which is only going to talk about the e-mail inbox, we’re going to do a few other series around other things that people seem to struggle with with the digital life. There is some opportunities here for you to help the overwhelm that you feel every single day


when it means coming to your inbox. And it’s a pretty simple process, it’s just a system that works. This system works for me, it works for many people. There are other systems but the point is to actually have a system and the benefit of that is that you will find it much, much easier to be able to respond.

Now, a lot of people sort of say to me it’s great Jarrod, I’d love to start with your system


but, I’ve got a thousand unread emails, what do I do? Do I go through all those and do the process? And I would simply say absolutely not. Declare email bankruptcy and that’s a term that I heard from some other people who were spouting about this idea of email inbox and I think it’s fantastic. Basically, e-mail bankruptcy is you declaring that everything that’s in your


e-mail inbox is going to be removed and deleted or archived if you have the capacity to do so and you’re going to start fresh, and you’re going to start fresh with the system.

Now, people sit there and think oh my I would never be able to hit delete on a thousand e-mails, you know, what if I needed them. Well, you probably haven’t needed them to this point and they’re just sitting there as unread items and you’ve not even looked at them. So what’s the difference. But, if you


are in a situation to be able to archive them then that’s the next best thing to do. Just hit archive and know that these days it is super easy to do a search and find an email that you needed. And if it was really important you probably will get it sent back to you again. Like if you deleted something that was of critical importance that you didn’t realize that was even sent to you, A) probably not that important if it’s in your unread emails and


hasn’t been read and B) if it is important than people will probably recirculate it to you and you can even say that, send an e-mail to all your contacts and say I have declared e-mail bankruptcy, if you have any important communication that you have sent to me in the past that I am still yet to act on please send me an email and at least you’ll have a nice procedure and process to help you deal with that.

So as


we wrap up this episode I hope you’ve enjoyed it. There will be a links to all the different tools and so on that we’ve spoken about over at thepegeek.com/episode86 or sorry, /86 for episode 86. And I really hope that you’ve taken something away.

If you do manage to declare e-mail bankruptcy and you find the new system and procedures to be useful then get in contact with me or leave a comment in the show notes and


I wish the best in this process for you because it is a horrible thing e-mail and if we start with a system and a procedure it doesn’t have to be as horrible.

So, we’ll speak soon and I look forward to hearing how you go.


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