A study from Superhuman shows that 22% of remote workers want to quit their jobs simply because they get too many emails. But in reality, emails are a tool to make your workplace communication better, not a painstaking annoyance. If you’re having trouble keeping a handle on your emails, try out the inbox zero method. It’s not just about keeping your emails to a minimum– it’s about cutting down on the amount of time and mental energy devoted to your email inbox so you can get back to work.

What is the inbox zero method?

The inbox zero method is an email management strategy that aims to keep your email inbox constantly free from new, unopened messages. Invented by productivity expert Merlin Mann, the inbox zero method has more to do with how much email takes up an employee’s mental space than the actual number of emails in your inbox.

Mann states that your email inbox isn’t like a “to do” list, and it shouldn’t be a constant dark cloud hanging overhead. Your life is full of inboxes, whether they’re emails, texts, social media messages, or anything else. These interaction methods are just a means to an end: getting your work done.

“Ask yourself. If I’m spending time and attention on so many different inboxes in so many places at so many times, is it any wonder that I’m very stressed out?” Mann told Wired UK.

How do I do the inbox zero method?

The inbox zero method involves scheduling two or three times per day to check your email. A recent study from the University of British Columbia states that checking email three times a day is actually optimal, as it decreases stress as effectively as a daily meditation. Every single new email you get should have an action attached so that by the end of each session, you have no new emails to sort through.

As for the actions, you have four choices regarding how to respond to each email: delete, delegate, defer or do.

1. Delete

Deleting an email is the simplest thing you can do – if it’s not essential, just get rid of it. This isn’t just for spam or marketing emails, though those are the easiest to delete. Deletion also applies to emails you don’t need to reference again, emails that don’t require action from you, or even email blasts that aren’t relevant to you from other departments.

You can alleviate the need to delete emails by decluttering your subscriptions to marketing emails or newsletters you don’t read. It would help if you also understood what email blasts are important and which ones don’t apply to you. If it makes your inbox cleaning process easier, you can automatically send emails to your junk mail if they’re from specific senders, which will cut down on your time spent deleting.

2. Delegate

Next, instead of just deleting emails, you can delegate them to your teammates. You don’t have to be a manager to delegate as long as you do it thoughtfully, and if you don’t have the answer the other party is looking for, don’t be afraid to outsource. After that, you can either archive the email or delete it entirely.

However, when you’re delegating, be considerate about who you’re involving in the process. Don’t just toss something along to the next person just because you don’t know what to do with the email or you don’t feel like dealing with it. The person you’re passing this information to could have an inbox that’s twice as crowded as yours, and the input you’re seeking from them could be unnecessary.

“Everybody is overwhelmed. A lot of people are just punting things to the next person and CC’ing and BCC’ing or calling and generating this volume of stuff,” Mann told Wired UK. But even though you’re keeping your inbox clean, you’re cluttering someone else’s – so be considerate before you forward an email just to get it out of your hair.

3. Defer

Another option in the inbox zero method is deferring. The email you receive might not be something you can answer at that exact moment, as you’re waiting to hear back from someone else, your schedule is in flux, or you have some outstanding data that hasn’t been calculated. You could also be sent an email with an attachment that you’ll need later or necessary information about a project or client. But don’t just let it sit in your old mail folder, gathering dust. Be intentional about sorting your messages into new folders.

Your folders can be labeled in a number of different ways to organize and expedite the responding process. One option is to manage them by the deadline so that you know exactly when you need to respond to them. You can also get into the habit of organizing emails by project, sender, or the reason you put the email off, such as “scheduling,” “reference,” or “files for an upcoming project.” Then, if you need to compile a response, put the task affiliated with the email on your to-do list and come back to it later.

4. Do

Lastly, the inbox zero method requires you to answer emails as soon as you get them. However, to cruise through your inbox as efficiently as possible, you’ve got to be mindful that you’re not spending too much time responding to each query. Don’t let the daunting thought of perfecting every word in an email stop you from sending it off. Brevity is the soul of wit, so you don’t have to be verbose or flowery in every response – sometimes, a straightforward, two-sentence reply will do the trick.

Ultimately, the inbox zero method is a great way to manage your incoming emails and keep your communications flowing smoothly. It’s also a great way to improve productivity for remote workers, who may find themselves on the receiving end of many more emails than traditional office workers. Remember that an email is a tool for communication, not a job on its own. Even if answering emails is a part of your job, it’s certainly not all you do, so use techniques that turn your inbox into a helping hand instead of a nuisance.

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