The Inbox Zero Approach: The Good, The Bad and The Truth (How To Effectively Communicate In The Workplace)

New year, new inbox.

It’s 2019 and entrepreneurs are still struggling to stop working for their inbox and start having their inbox work for them. Why?

Our inbox has become synonymous to our success. More emails must equal more opportunity, right? The answer is yes…and no.

Yes, more emails equate to more tasks getting completed, communication thriving and files coming in but assuming all of this is getting done productively is like throwing spaghetti at the wall and assuming every noodle is going to stick.

The average office worker can receive up to 121 emails per day and can reply with forty emails in a 24-hour span. Can an inbox keep track of all of the tasks, communications, and files to look back on later?


Can it leave you feeling overwhelmed and in a daze as to what is actually happening?


This overload is what spurred Inbox Zero, the infamous Google TechTalk speech from Merlin Mann that broke inboxes down to a formula. In his hour-long talk, Mann explained how to make the most of your inbox, not by keeping it empty but by reducing the amount of time spent reading and answering the emails.

“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox.” -Merlin Mann

His strategy, used widely today, is to act on each email as you read it with one of five actions: Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer, Do.

Inbox Zero’s goal is to keep email closed for the majority of the day and to be as productive a possible once it’s opened. The idea is that once you have entered the inbox rabbit hole, every email gets answered or organized by using one of the five actions above.

The Inbox Zero approach has garnered fans and critics from the business community. While some entrepreneurs swear by it, others are strongly against it.

Here’s Why Business Owners Love The Inbox Zero Approach

It’s been over a decade and business owners are still talking about Inbox Zero. To date, the hashtag #inboxzero is still being used on Twitter and promoted by many in the startup space.

Oliver Bullos, Executive Producer at Rovio, the company that created Angry Birds, is an open Inbox Zero fan, though he has put his own revisions on the approach. In his Doist article, To Inbox Zero or Not To Inbox Zero, Bullos explains how that he subscribes to the approach by,

“…reducing the amount of email that exists, making organizing it easier and also using email labels, in combination with a rigorous list of filter rules. With these I am able to cut off most unnecessary email before I ever see it and make sure that if an email gets to my inbox, it’s probably important enough to need a reply. I then tend to write my longer email replies first thing in the morning, just after lunch or at the very end of the day.”

Aytekin Tank, founder and CEO of JotForm, has found six main benefits to using the Inbox Zero approach to organize and act upon hundreds of emails every day, which he outlines in his article, Improve Your Productivity With Inbox Zero, published to Entrepreneur magazine.

  • All important emails are seen
  • Every email is responded to in a timely manner
  • As the business owner, you keep the momentum going instead of bottlenecking your company
  • Fewer emails, less stress
  • Improved reputation because of a better response time
  • A sense of accomplishment and focus from knowing your inbox isn’t on fire

Rebuttals about the Inbox Zero approach come from entrepreneurs like Steven Covey, the author of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. He doesn’t subscribe to Inbox Zero and instead organizes his email by importance and urgency.

The Case Against Inbox Zero: Why It’s An Unrealistic Approach

Does anyone really have time to sort through 100+ emails on a daily basis?

This push back comes from entrepreneurs who think prioritization is a better approach than immediate response. Steven Covey’s approach to email management revolves around four classifications:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Non-Urgent
  3. Unimportant and Urgent
  4. Unimportant and Non-Urgent

His approach was adopted by Tony Robbins with the selling point that you are deciding what tasks and emails to spend your time on by choosing what to classify them as.

This approach lies halfway between Inbox Zero and the newest inbox management system, Inbox Infinity.

The case on the completely opposite side of the spectrum for Inbox Zero is the Inbox Infinity approach.

The Inbox Infinity approach isn’t for everyone and at first glimpse might make your eye twitch. A full inbox? All the time?

The strategy was coined by business owners against the Inbox Zero approach. Freelancers and entrepreneurs who have deemed their inboxes an impossible battle to fight decided that they would let go and let live, choosing not to respond to every email or to try to clear their inbox.

“Adopting inbox infinity means accepting the fact that there will be an endless, growing amount of email in your inbox every day, most of which you will never address or even see. It’s about letting email messages wash over you, responding to the ones you can, but ignoring most.”
A Case For Inbox Infinity by Taylor Lorenz

As experts in productivity and work efficiency, we’ve thrown both approaches out the window.

An inbox in today’s tech world is a bucket with holes in it. Each day, water gets poured in the bucket and each day you lose water as it pours out of the holes. If you subscribe to Inbox Zero, you’re losing time on a daily basis as you continue to spend hours inside of your inbox deleting, delegating, responding, deferring and doing. If you subscribe to Inbox Infinity you avoid task management, drop communication and lose files in the myriad of emails blizzarding through your inbox.

If you ask us, the idea that your inbox should be full or empty no longer applies to 2019. In fact, the idea of an inbox is starting to sounds archaic.

The Most Efficient Communication Management Solution

“So what’s the ultimate way to get to Inbox Zero? Have zero inboxes. “
The Ultimate Way To Get To Inbox Zero

Inboxes have a place and time. Their place is in “official” communications, such as with stakeholders. Their role is important but limited.

To move your business forward, a constant state of action is required. To acquire this state of action you have to be able to delegate tasks, organize actions, easily search shared files and be in regular communication with your team and third parties.

Using chat over email is like plugging the holes of your bucket. Instead of an influx of water pouring through the holes, you’re able to contain that water inside of the bucket. You can delegate tasks by tagging team members, you can seamlessly move communication into an actionable to-do list and retrieve files in seconds.

This all funnels down into effective communication, something email is not. Where email trumps chat is in third-party communication that requires you to be in contact with somebody (like a stakeholder). Where chat trumps email is in avoiding the overwhelm of hundreds of emails and having to take one of Mann’s actions on each one, establishing a prioritization hierarchy or just letting your inbox fill until the end of time. Chat, unlike email, is fast, direct and effective, especially when the three step formula for effective communication in the workplace is implemented.

At Brief, we’ve created a productivity app that’s designed for complete efficiency. To us, complete efficiency means you can talk to your team without being distracted, assign tasks, effectively share files and stay on top of what truly matters. Brief is a sleek and minimalist productivity app for business owners who don’t want bells and whistles, they want to get things done.

2019 isn’t the year of a new inbox, it’s the year of a new communication system.

Try Brief for free and reduce your inbox-dependency.

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