How to Achieve Inbox Zero

November 17, 2016, 1:00 AM UTC
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This article is part of Tools of the Trade, a weekly series in which a variety of experts share actionable tips for achieving fast and effective results on everything from productivity to fundraising.

This week Anthony Casalena, the founder and CEO of Squarespace, shares strategies for maintaining an orderly inbox.

On an average day, I receive around 300 emails. They’re messages from colleagues, salespeople, friends, and family alerting me to meetings, new products, and dinner reservations. But despite the constant influx, most of the time I’m at or very close to Inbox Zero.

It’s not the work of an executive assistant (I don’t have one) or an elaborate filtering system — rather, achieving and maintaining Inbox Zero is a skill I’ve worked to perfect over the years.

Here’s how I do it:

I treat my inbox as a “to do” list.

Every email in my inbox is an action item. If it’s not something I need to act upon, I will archive it. If it’s an event, I’ll schedule it on my calendar and get rid of the email. If it’s something that will take me a while to complete, I’ll move the action item to a separate long-term list.

I also remind myself of short-term tasks using Squarespace Note — it’s my go-to app for ad hoc to-do’s.

I use an automatic response for unsolicited email.

I’m pretty good at visually glancing at my inbox and immediately archiving or deleting any emails that contain bold text, italics, images, bulleted lists, or any other formatting from people I don’t know. These are usually random unsolicited business offers or spam. I spend almost no time on these and swipe them away immediately. If I accidentally miss something important, it will almost certainly resurface.

Related: How to Learn Something and Actually Retain It

I don’t let anything sit in my inbox.

If an email is lingering in my inbox, it means there is something I need to do. If it lingers for more than a day, something is wrong. Because emails represent something to learn, something to schedule, or something to respond to. The more items that remain, the more aware I am of being behind.

Further, lingering messages can slow down Squarespace. If someone is waiting for me to respond and I’m moving slowly, his or her ability to move forward might be impacted. That’s bad for everyone.

I don’t check my email that often.

Clearing out my inbox doesn’t necessarily involve compulsively refreshing my inbox. While I’m generally pretty vigilant during the day, in the evenings, I only look at my phone maybe once every hour — sometimes even less — depending on the circumstance. I rarely check my phone during a meal or during a conversation. That said, I do stay on top of my emails when I go on vacation, because I can’t go away and just pretend that Squarespace doesn’t exist. While I check in with a greatly reduced frequency, there’s nothing relaxing to me about the notion of coming back to 2,000 unread emails.

I write short responses

Because I’m often checking emails on my phone, I prefer not to write more than a sentence or two. Moreover, I find that long emails are both annoying to send and receive, so if ever a message necessitates a longer response, I’d rather have a conversation in person or on the phone.