ZenForInbox Process Strategies for your Emails

#ZenForInbox has been a concept running for about a year, a process I've been trialling, tweaking and re-formatting as I've gone. It's an amalgamation of different email productivity themes and processes, and is hopefully a less stressful alternative to Inbox Zero.

The first stress you encounter when starting any new email process is the overwhelming feeling of too much stuff! You want to get from A to B.

When I got to the point of email burnout (yes, I can confirm it's a thing) I starting trying to find a solution. InboxZero seemed like the obvious process, and for a while that worked, but then I realised it was lacking in further organisation, filters, extra conditionings. 

Then came the second stress of *keeping up with the Jones* of an empty inbox. If you run your own business, freelance or just don't have a regular 9 to 5 job, Inbox Zero just might not be enough. So fear not, how about having a go with #ZenForInbox instead.


First off the best way to reduce the number of emails in your inbox is dealing with all the non-urgent and non-essentials, like in the Eisenhower Matrix. 

  • Are there email newsletters in your inbox you never read, or read the content via a different format? (like RSS feeds or Social Media)
    • Unsubscribe from them rather than hit Spam - this will mean over the coming months you'll actually save time dealing with these emails you have mentally already unsubscribed from. Just ignoring them is still taking up your time!
  • True Spam - Real Spam (the kind that looks like it's from the early 2000's) and doesn't have any unsubscribe options will have to be dealt with manually. On average people receive about 20 of these truly spam emails a day. This is usually due to your email account having been hacked at some point, or your email has been on a database that has been hacked into then shared online.
    • When you seen an email like this hit the Spam icon - your email system will start to learn what looks like true Spam
    • Check your Spam bin/folder regularly to check your systems aren't mistaking your important emails for Spam - I generally suggest doing this every couple of days
    • You can check if your email has been illegally shared online via https://haveibeenpwned.com/ 
  • Delete obvious emails you don't want/need to keep straight away 
  • If it gets too much and you're at 9999+ new emails, select all but this week's worth of emails, mark them as read and put them in a new folder "Old Emails" or if you're brave Select All + Delete (I've never had the strength myself!)
    • This will instantly reduce the stress seeing that new emails number blinking all the time 
    • You'll probably/hopefully find that if an email was important your sender will chase you up - if you're worried about missing something, you could always put something at the bottom of your email signature as a warning
    • Work on this week's emails next with the Decluttering, Organising and Managing system here 
  • Responding to emails when there is no need to respond can help reduce the amount of replies to your reply. Using closing phrases at the end of emails can help reduce the number of emails you receive naturally


Next step is organising the emails that you have left that you want to keep.

  • Those email newsletters that you occasionally read and want to keep receiving, but aren't super important to read, get them out of your inbox.
    • Setup Filters with your newsletter "from" email into a separate Folder, and label something like "Newsletters" - I usually glance through this folder about once a week
  • Set up different folders in a theme or strand that works for you. For example a folder for each client or project, or type of work you do.
    • Set up different folders for "Holidays" "Travel" "Deliveries" "Events/Networking" 
    • Then either setup further Filters using the from addresses or manually move them into these new folders when they hit your Inbox
    • This might take a few weeks to catch all the different emails you receive and then you can setup a filter for each as you go. This will take a bit of time, but this is time to invest now, to save time longer term - very worth it!
  • Have an "Archive" folder for those emails that don't need a specific folder for them, but you just don't want to delete
  • Remember there's always your search function - if that works for you that's an option, but bear in mind I had a situation once where the system's search function didn't work for 2 weeks! Could you work around it?


  • Having a strategy of when you plan to check you emails is the first key. Are you a morning person? Do you want to get your emails out of the way first thing? Or are you a coffee break kinda person?
  • You should only deal with an email once
    • If you can deal with it with a quick response in under 5 minutes, do it now!
    • If you need to wait on someone else before you can action or reply - setup a new folder "Actions Needed" you should then check this at the start and end of your working day, before your inbox, to help keep you focused
    • If an email needs something actioning outside of your inbox, make it a To-Do rather than an email - get it out of your inbox and into you Task List system instead
  • It can be useful to have a folder of "Useful Info for This Week - No Action Required" - this can be used for those event reminders, emails with addresses in and important info that you need to keep out of your inbox to avoid cluttering it up, but you aren't ready to put it into your archive. This is really helpful as you'll only have a few emails in this folder, once you're done with that week's you can move it into the Archive folders or delete them
  • If you do reach InboxZero you'll see a special message behind the emails :D
  • If you don't get to that empty inbox, don't stress, you've managed it, controlled it and it's all good! 
  • When you send other people brand new emails or replies, be wary of their inbox and time, be considerate 
    • Be clear what your email is about in your subject line (that's what it's there for), use your first and last paragraph to link back to the subject
    • If you are asking for a response to something, have that as the last point in the email
    • Is email the best for of response/reply? Would in person, or a call be easier/quicker?
  • Would a 5 line email system work for you?
    • Brevity in emails can be useful, but it can also be seen as abrupt, use this wisely
    • Rather than a 5 line email, how about a 5 short paragraphs emails - this has worked much better for me
    • Remember noone has time for waffle! 
    • Don't forget to be nice and polite though! 
  • Remember what CC (Carbon Copy) and BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) are used for - don't CC everyone in, just because others have
    • Who is this directed to?
    • Who needs to see this?
    • Do all of the people in your To and CC boxes give consent for seeing each other’s email addresses?
    • Only reply if you need to
  • For internal or group communications is a subject title format useful?
    • For example [For Info], [Response Required] [Response Desired] to help the recipient understand what is needed from them 
    • This is really useful for team messages, and boards or director groups

I hope this will work for you as much as it does for me. This has revolutionised the way I work, and I spend much less time in my emails, and more time working on projects, clients' work and enjoying life and the reduced stress.

Have a go yourself, let me know how you get on!