Merlin Mann championed the concept of Inbox Zero back in 2006 as a way for busy people to reclaim their attention. Since then, Inbox Zero has become more than a prioritization system: it's become a mindset.
But as the modern workplace has evolved, even the most diligent struggle to keep message counts down to zero. We're constantly emailing groups of people and getting “looped in” with CC's, BCC's, and Forwards. The cost of more collaborative teams and easier data access — more email. Inbox Zero is no longer possible merely force of will.
As conventional ways to maintain fall short on an individual basis, it's time to rethink how teams can reduce the distraction of email.
A modern approach to Inbox Zero
When you open your inbox, there are certain messages you can reply to quickly or archive without action. But Inbox Zero breaks down when the volume of emails that need follow up — either more information from a teammate or further investigation on your own — continually outpace what you can handle immediately.
Instead of relying on yet more emails to coordinate next steps with your team, a shared inbox makes it easier to loop in teammates quickly to gather context for your reply. With everyone working off a unified set of messages and collaborating internally through comments, work isn't duplicated across everyone's personal inbox. A properly designed shared inbox powers a more efficient team that spends less time sorting through their inboxes and more time focusing on high value work.
Here's how you can stick to some of Merlin Mann's principles of Inbox Zero in a collaborative workplace:
- “Some messages are more equal than others”
- Private inbox: Labels let you categorize your emails, so you can prioritize what you want to deal with first.
- Shared inbox: Tags let you categorize emails in the same way but are visible to your team, so you can work together instead of sorting through the same queue individually.
- “Your time is priceless (and wildly limited)”
- Private inbox: Filters can automatically get spam and less-urgent emails out of your main inbox.
- Shared inbox: Custom rules supercharge your filtering system and can assign or re-assign messages to the right person automatically.
- “Less can be so much more”
- Private inbox: Short responses let you answer emails quickly, instead of spending time on niceties.
- Shared inbox: Canned responses help your team work faster with template replies, and shared drafts allow your team to work together quickly on responses (without “drafting docs” or extra emails to review).
- “Lying to yourself doesn't empty the inbox”
- Private inbox: You have to prioritize and decide what can be answered and what never will.
- Shared inbox: @Mention other teammates to get help taking care emails and leverage the collective time of your team.
Collaboration doesn't have to come at the cost of organization. Here's how you can set up your shared inbox with Front to maintain Inbox Zero.
Team email tagging
Use tags to triage your email to facilitate following up on related emails in batches. You can also set up rules that use tags to assign messages to the right teammate or move them to another shared folder, so you don't need to worry about following up on the message at all.
American spend over six hours a day in their inbox. They're checking for new emails, drafting responses, and constantly opening up and re-reading emails that they haven't answered yet. Tags help you triage messages, but what should you do about about the rest of the CC's, questions, and requests that are still on your plate?
Set reminders for messages that you don't get to. You can do this automatically with rules or manually on any message — just answer your most urgent messages, and any “snoozed” messages will appear at a later (and perhaps more convenient) time.
Draft great replies quickly
Canned responses help with quick replies, but for more complex questions drafting a response can be time consuming — not to mention the back and forth required to finalize the copy and send it. Shared drafts in Front make it easy to work together with teammates on one draft, so you can collaborate in real time right from your inbox.
Get backup when you need it
We have the tendency to overestimate what we'll have time for, so we keep putting off those three or four emails for when we have a free moment. We keep them in our inbox for weeks until we finally admit that we're never going to do anything about those final few messages (it's the same reason 90% of us can't even get through a to-do list. According to Mann, the final principle of Inbox Zero is purely psychological: learn to be realistic about what you can and can't accomplish.
When you need to loop in a teammate for help, Front makes it easy: your teammates are just an @mention away. Get the context you need for next steps or check in with them about taking over the conversation. Manage your inbox as a team — without duplicating work — by quickly collaborating through comments and assigning clear ownership for every message.
Inbox Zero, without the effort
If you're a fan of Inbox Zero, you probably get anxiety at even the thought of a shared inbox.
You have all your emails labeled and color-coded. You handle most of them first thing in the morning and check your inbox several times a day to keep it tidy. You've developed a system, it works — and you don't want to share.
But a shared inbox simply introduces a collaborative twist to the inbox you already know and love (well, maybe not love 😉 ).
You can create labels, filters, and automation the same way you can in your Gmail or Outlook; but it's easier to gather context, collaborate with your team, and hand off emails that you don't have time to get to. It's the next step in the evolution of your inbox that helps email fit the needs of a today's teams.