321zero: How I Solved my Email Overload
Email overload is a common problem at work. Here is how you can drastically reduce the time you spend on responding and dealing with your inbox.
Hi, we are Happy
We are leading a movement to create happy, empowered and productive workplaces.
How can we help you and your people to find joy in at least 80% of your work?
Your inbox can be a time swamp. A mixture of flagged items, urgent and important issues, plus general nonsense with distractions aplenty. I have long known (and even taught) the important of only checking new email a few times a day. But I’d found it impossible because I kept returning to the inbox to deal with one or more specific emails and getting distracted by all the other stuff in there.
Before implementing this, it had been years since I last had an empty inbox. Now I achieve a zero inbox three times a day. I feel truly liberated and hugely more productive. It is all thanks to the simple principles of the 321zero system:
- Check your inbox three times a day
- Take 21 minutes to clear it to zero
- Ignore your inbox at all other times
Be clear on this – this does not say “take 21 minutes to deal with as many emails as possible.” It is specific: clear your inbox to zero, three times a day.
This doesn’t mean you restrict email to 63 minutes a day. That may or may not be possible. It is to restrict email to the time it needs, not the time it takes over.
I have several folders that I move email into: Urgent, Important, Other. I also have a Response folder for emails which are neither urgent nor important but I want to respond to anyway.
I no longer check email in breaks, I no longer check email when I’m with the family. I no longer worry I have forgotten to get back to something important in my inbox. I know where my important email is and suddenly find myself with spare time. Checking my email isn’t the first thing I do, either – I don’t check my email until after 11am, so I don’t get derailed by tasks in my inbox when I get to the office.
The effect has been magical. My method used to be to clear my email down at the weekend, apart from actions needing attention, and I rarely got below 100 emails in my inbox. Currently I have nine items in my Important Folder and just one in my Urgent folder. I really don’t know where everything else has gone.
What to do with your existing inbox
You must empty it. This could be simply transferring it to an “Old Inbox” folder and letting it gradually lapse. Or disperse it to your new folders. I had 270 emails in my inbox and spent an hour transferring them to the folders (and deleting a fair few). And then another hour dealing with most of those.
What about urgent emails needing an instant response?
Try to create a culture of not using email for urgent actions. It is very unreliable for this anyway, as people don’t often put on Out of Office for – say – a half day meeting. Make colleagues aware you only check email three times a day and, if it’s urgent, they should find another way to contact you – I have in my email signature that if it’s urgent, text is best.
Of course this doesn’t work if you are in a customer service role where your job is to respond to email. But that isn’t true of many of us. And my contacts are actually getting quicker responses now under this system than they ever did when I checked my email two dozen times a day.
I’d love to attribute the system to whoever invented it but I’m not sure who did. I discovered it when tweets started cropping up from people who had adopted it and been amazed by the results. The only reference I can find is a Forbes article by Kevin Kruse about how millionaires manage their email.
Why not sign up to our newsletter?
Sign up to our monthly newsletter, full of tips, tricks and news to help you to be happier and more productive at work.
Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer
Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.
Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.
His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.
Testimonials from happy Customers
Trusted Customer26 days ago
I don't know about their service - I only interacted with the training.
Sam Haworth Booth26 days ago
Really interactive training with a facilitator with real-world experience who was able to encourage reflective practice in participants
Mary Murphy29 days ago
It was really interesting and helpful. Darren was so informative!
Diane Hellawell30 days ago
I really enjoyed the day. Very good trainers, easy to understand and a fun interactive day. looked after really well, plenty of Tea, Coffee, Snacks throughout the day, ni...
Roy Wood30 days ago
A well-structured training course, which was really well delivered. Course content (including handouts) sufficiently covered key topics.
Trusted Customer32 days ago
The trainer was engaging and interacted well with the course participants, but the course content didn't feel particularly well tailored to the group's needs, which was f...
Trusted Customer32 days ago
Very upbeat and engaging
Trusted Customer33 days ago
Interesting and informative session. Helped my understanding.
Trusted Customer33 days ago
Very good tutor. I enjoyed the interactive nature and practical exercises.
Tomisin Olumoroti33 days ago
Lovely session and I plan on booking another session in the near future with Happy so that I continue learning and growing in Excel.
Ben Mountford34 days ago
Very good service, patient and polite also able to have a laugh and joke as the course went on. Great to refresh and also learn the new capabilities of excel, especially ...
Liz Mulholland37 days ago
very informative and engaging also being able to connect with people from all over the world