How to Get Your Inbox to Zero Every Day

April 4, 2017, 5:50 PM UTC
Mail icon on an iphone
"Cape Town, South Africa - August 23, 2011: Mail icon on an iphone 4, manufactured by Apple"
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The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you stay sane with little to no free time?” is written by Eric Rea, CEO of Podium.

During my last few years running Podium, free time has become more and more rare, between having our first child, growing from 15 employees to 150 in 12 months, and releasing update after update to the product. That said, I’ve been able to thrive by using a few tips that help me stay sane while running a business:

Start your day early
Starting your day early allows you to keep a predetermined time for reflection and planning, one that won’t get interrupted by the latest fire drill in the office or the meeting that ran over. I think it’s vital for any leader to constantly be reflecting on recent initiatives, but also looking to the days ahead as you map out your plan of attack. Even starting your day at 6 a.m. can allow you to get a jumpstart without any distractions—something that’s difficult to do if you’re starting your day at 8:30 a.m., surrounded by coworkers, meetings, and chatter.

Waking up early also provides the opportunity for daily exercise. I attend a 6:30 a.m. CrossFit class with a few coworkers before getting ready and heading into the office for the day. Without this workout, I feel tired, am less productive, think less clearly, and tend to rely on caffeine to keep me going.

But don’t just take it from me; there is a long list of successful people who cite exercise and rising early as a key to success.

Enjoy who you work with and have fun
We have a value at Podium: Enjoy the ride. By that we mean that we want employees to enjoy the work they’re doing and the people they’re working with. We never take ourselves too seriously.

See also: Here’s Why You Might Want to Start Skipping Networking Events

If you can find people who subscribe to similar work ideologies as yours and you can feed off of each other’s energy, you are far less likely to long for time away from the office. In fact, you’ll see work as the enjoyable free time that everyone else yearns for.

Schedule in time to relax
One easy way to stay sane is to simply block off a dedicated window of time to unplug every day. For me, that means listening to an audiobook on my commute home, watching television with my family, or taking a bath to unwind.

I see burnout happen the most with employees who work nonstop, day and night. They become less effective when they operate this way, which is why I encourage my team to carve out the time to take a break, unplug, and jump back into things when the time is right.

Get the inbox to zero by the end of every day
Instead of attacking the day with a proactive mindset, people tend to be reactive.

From my experience, many of these people are constantly trying to keep up with a full inbox from the previous day. Early on at Podium, I decided I’d always get to “inbox zero” and “Slack zero” by the end of the day. By doing this, I start with a clean slate every day, and can be more proactive with my daily plans. It also allows me peace of mind knowing I’m not the bottleneck for any given thing going on within the organization—something that can produce quite a bit of stress and slow things down.

Here’s how I get my inbox to zero:

Only check email at specific times
I check email three times a day: First thing when I get into the office, after lunch, and before shutting down for the day.

Turn off new email notifications on your phone and computer
Don’t let your inbox become your to-do list, or else someone else will be the one determining your priorities.


Ask yourself if you can act on it now
When it comes to handling emails, I know the ball is in my court. Whatever I can do to move things forward, even if it’s just a quick response, helps me from being the bottleneck. If I actually cannot respond, I will snooze the email to a date and time where I feel I’ll be able to respond.

Delegate when you can
Delegate responses and tasks when possible by copying one person who can move things forward, and indicate who will own the next steps in the email. Don’t be that person who copies a dozen people on every email with no clear path forward.

Don’t push off the hard things to respond to
The hardest emails to respond to are usually the most important. Tackle them head-on; don’t procrastinate.

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