CHAPTER 1: Introduction

Do you often find yourself spending most of your working day responding to incoming emails? The chances are you probably do. Research has found that the average professional receives more than 100 emails every day. Even email marketers get too much mail. Countless messages from work colleagues, along with file attachments, meeting invitations, sales messages, newsletters, and not forgetting copious amounts of spam fill inboxes daily and this often means you spend more time dealing with and sifting through messages rather than actually getting any quality work done. It also doesn’t help that an average inbox, according to research from SaneBox, contains only 42% important, relevant email.

Although the digital age has led to significant productivity increases, the modern workday sees email destroying productivity. So how much time have we really lost to email?

    • 13 hrs

    13 hours a week is spent on reading & responding to emails

    • 30 %

    Roughly 30% of the working week

    • 650 hrs

    650 hours a year spent on insignificant, low value work

Research from The McKinsey Global Institute found that an average employee spends 13 hours a week reading and responding to emails. That equates to roughly 30% of our working week, which equates to about 650 hours a year spent on insignificant, low value work.

A study by the Danwood Group also found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover from an email interruption (regardless of the email’s importance) and return to work at the same work rate at which you left it. A team of researchers at UC Irvine and the U.S Army even studied the effects of limiting email access on participants’ heart rate. It found that limiting email access dramatically reduces stress. Participants without access to email switched windows 18 times per hour vs 37 times per hour for participants with email access.

Ask yourself this - when was the last time your inbox was empty?

CHAPTER 2: how to beat your inbox

When you receive an email that you don’t reply to straightaway, chances are it will sit in your inbox. Then, as more emails come flooding in, it will drop to the bottom of your inbox and it could take weeks or even months before you respond to it.

Of course you can use a combination of flags, labels and folders to try and organise your inbox but does that really solve anything? Flagged emails still mean you have to sift through your inbox to find them and even if you have a filtered list of flagged emails, you still need to read through the list to find the one you need. Rather than cleaning your inbox, don’t you find that you just end up creating several more inboxes? All of this will cause you to waste valuable time.

Wouldn't it be good to find a way to easily manage your inbox? Next time an email appears in your inbox, think - Is it relevant?

Chapter 3: The principles behind Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero was introduced in 2007 by productivity expert Merlin Mann who is founder of the blog 43 Folders. It’s a methodical approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty (or at least, “almost” empty) at all times. While many people are aware of the term Inbox Zero, most of them don’t really understand the philosophy behind it. The zero is in fact, not a reference to the number of messages in an inbox, but as Mann suggests:

“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. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.”

The technique is essentially about freeing people from their inboxes as ultimately a cluttered inbox takes up headspace. The idea is to get in and out of your inbox as effectively and as quickly as possible so you can focus your attention on what really matters.

Productivity begins to suffer when an inbox is confused with a “to do” list. The idea is to reduce the number of times per day you check for emails and once in there, open each message as few times as possible.

There are a number of basic principles to Inbox Zero which include:

  • Delete or Archive

    If you can tell by the subject line or the sender that the email is not important, delete or archive it without opening it. If you use email service like Gmail with lots of storage space, archiving emails instead of deleting may be an option but it’s crucial to process these types of messages in bulk. There are a number of apps that can help you do this which are explained later on.

  • Delegate

    If you are not the best person to respond to the email, forward it on and get it out of your inbox.

  • Respond

    If the email is urgent or the response can be written in two minutes or less write it and send it.

  • Defer

    If the response will take longer than two minutes to write, it’s not urgent or it’s not actionable until later, defer it. The mistake here is that most people will leave it in their inbox, which means you will spend time focusing and thinking about it, which goes against the whole Inbox Zero theory. Move it to another folder and come back to it when you have more time to write. This way you don’t have to worry about it until it becomes actionable.

  • Do

    Do the actions that are required for the email.

Some of Mann’s main tips for effective email management include:

  1. Don’t leave email open.
  2. Process email periodically through the day.
  3. Delete or archive as many messages as possible.
  4. Forward what can be best answered by someone else.
  5. Immediately respond to any new messages that can be answered in two minutes or less.
  6. Move new messages that require more time to answer to a seperate “requires response” folder and set aside time each day to respond to this type of email.

By approaching email in this way you will ultimately:

  1. Minimise email to a single task that takes place only 1-2 times a day.
  2. Get back to people quicker.
  3. Deal with emails more effectively.
  4. Have nothing in your inbox so when you do receive an email you can deal with it without distraction.
  5. Adapt a daily routine for checking email so you don’t end up being pulled back into your inbox randomly throughout the day.

When looking at the methodology behind Inbox Zero, it’s important not to forget the broader productivity system from which Inbox Zero came from. One of the biggest hindrances to being productive is not having a clear mind. Getting Things Done (GTD) is an overarching principle of Inbox Zero, developed by David Allen. He has a saying that “your brain is for having ideas, not holding them.” To put it simply, GTD is a method for organising your schedule in a way that makes it manageable. It helps clear the mind of any mental distractions that will keep you from working effectively.

So how does this fit in with Inbox Zero?

Inbox Zero is a modern adaptation of GTD for your email inbox. If you’re not managing your inbox correctly, you waste valuable time thinking about what you should be doing instead of being able to focus on the things that actually matter. So ultimately the goal is to get tasks out of your head so you can focus on what you need to do at that time. For anyone who struggles with productivity, the whole concept of Inbox Zero is beneficial. It helps determine what you need to see and do but only when you need to see and do it.

But how does Inbox Zero actually help marketers? Getting a recipient to open an email is the constant struggle of any marketer and many believe Inbox Zero is making the whole process more difficult, but is it? Marketers can use Inbox Zero to their advantage.

As long as you are sending good quality emails, then you should have nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s likely you will benefit from this change as recipients can focus more on what is important to them. You can optimise your email communication and make sure the right emails go to the right person at the right time. You just need to spend more time segmenting lists and sending data-driven behavioural emails, based on interest, context and activity. All of which is explained further on.

Chapter 4: Hacks, Apps & Tips for Achieving Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is ultimately about changing your habits, but until that kicks in, there are a number of shortcuts, hacks and tips that can help you manage your inbox efficiently and effectively. There is a huge bulk of web apps, mobile apps and browser extensions that have sprung up to help people achieve Inbox Zero. When choosing the right hacks and apps, it’s important to find the tools that best fit your style. This might mean trying a few of them out until you find the right one to suit your needs.

Inbox Zero Apps

  • is an email management sytem that unsubcribes you from unwanted email subscriptions and helps you organise the subscriptions that you want to keep. It makes your subscriptions digestible and you can receive them at a time that suits you.

  • Mailstrom is a powerful tool that identifies bundles of related email and makes it easier for you to act on them as a group, meaning you can sift through tens, hundreds or even thousands of emails at once.

  • Sanebox prioritises your important emails and summarises the rest. It automatically sorts your email into several folders based on each email’s importance and offers a full suite of productivity features including ‘response tracking’ and ‘one click unsubscribe’ to help reduce the time you spend in your inbox.

  • Mailbox is an app that completely redesigns your inbox making email fast, light and mobile-friendly. Primarily it lets you swipe messages to archive, delete, snooze or file. Note that these features can actually work to a marketers advantage, as a recipient may not be able to take action immediately but can snooze it to come back to it at a later date instead of just deleting it straightaway. It also features Dropbox integration for uploading attachments and push notifications.

  • Inbox by Gmail is designed to help you create an inbox that works for you. It bundles your emails so you can group them together in an organised manner and is open to anyone who has a Gmail address. Not only that, Inbox also has some great features for marketers. You can download Highlights and add images, offers and more to your emails so they are displayed in the recipient's inbox. These extra visuals can help draw in the reader's attention and get them to click through into the email.

  • Dispatch makes it easy to act on email even when you’re on the move and is considered one of the best email apps for the iPhone as it supports third-party apps. So for example, you can archive important mail to Evernote or save links to read later with Pocket.

  • IQTELL turns your emails into clearly defined tasks and projects. If you find yourself endlessly re-reading and shuffling emails in lists then this app is for you. It’s available to download on iOS, Android, Web and Chrome.

Inbox Zero Hacks and Tips:

Learn keyboard shortcuts. Learn keyboard shortcuts and you are guaranteed to get through email quicker. Although they may take a bit of time getting used to, it’ll take seconds or even minutes off everything you do in your inbox. Think about the five actions you use most and learn the shortcuts for these actions. Below is a full list of shortcuts for:

Learn to use advanced Gmail searches. If you are one of the 425 million people that use Gmail, you can learn to search your inbox just like you would if you searched the internet with Google. Gmail has advanced search operators that you can use to find specific emails so you can find everything, from emails with attachments to emails that began before or after a certain date.

Set follow up reminders. If you need to hear back from someone, set up a system to remind you. Many Inbox Zero apps and plugins have features to help you do this. RemindMe and Boomerang allow you to either add a specific date or time when sending an email so you can be notified if the recipient hasn’t got back to you by that chosen time or select an email to return to your inbox if you haven’t received a response within a set number of days.

Filter emails that aren’t urgent. If you receive an email that isn’t actionable at that time, get it out of your inbox and come back to it at a later date when it is important. There are several apps to help you prioritise your emails. Check out the Mailbox iPhone app which is built around this function.

Archive all messages that are over 30 days old. Run a filter for all messages that are over 30 days old, select them all and archive them. Remember by archiving you are still able to search your messages based on a large number of criteria.

Introduce an email prioritisation system. Sign up for an email prioritisation system like Gmail’s Priority Inbox, which will sift through unimportant emails so they never show in your inbox. You can then glance through them when you have some spare time.

Chapter 5: Inbox Zero & good email etiquette work together

You can also help yourself and others in the quest for inbox zero. You can optimise your email communication to actually reduce the number of emails you and those around you will have to deal with, helping you eliminate distraction, reduce stress and clarify what tasks you actually need to do. All of this can be achieved by using good email etiquette.

Good email etiquette is an extension of Inbox Zero and here’s how it's done:

Write good, descriptive subject lines. Writing good, descriptive subject lines it will make searching for emails a lot easier and faster. As an email marketer, paying attention to your subject lines is especially important as this will make a huge impact on whether someone opens your email and clicks through.

Utilise numerical lists/ bullet points. If your email contains numerous questions or tasks, use numbers or bullet points to make sure you’re easily understood and people know exactly what actions need to be taken.

Only use ‘reply all’ when appropriate. ‘Reply all’ is the bane of business email. No one needs to see an email that has nothing to do with them. Think about who actually needs to hear your response before clicking ‘reply all’.

Stop replying with useless responses. How many times have you read an email which says just ‘OK’ or ‘Thanks’? These types of responses are useless and just clog up your inbox so try to refrain from doing so.

Label attachments correctly. ‘example.pdf’ isn’t helpful and just makes searching for the attachment at a later date harder so make sure you label your attachments clearly.

Make it bold. Try to summarise your email in the first sentence or two and make this bit bold so you are clearly understood and the recipient knows the call to action.

Chapter 6: How can email marketers win at inbox zero?

Inbox Zero is good news for marketers. It’s hard to believe isn’t it? But think about it like this - all emails now have their own sections. Marketing emails will no longer fade into insignificance. These types of emails will now have their own space, which people can go to at their own time. Not only that, recipients will be less likely to unsubscribe from emails because they are no longer in their primary inbox but kept neat and tidy in another section of their inbox.

It also helps if you know what kind of emails to send. So how can email marketers win at inbox zero?

The subject line. Research from Emailcenter’s latest whitepaper The Journey of Email Marketing found that from 2011 to 2014, open rates for emails with subject line lengths from 2-9 words saw a consistent year on year improvement. So what this tells us is, rather than the length of the subject being the all important make or break factor, the subject length isn’t really the make or break factor. What matters more is that the subject line is clear and succinct. Subject lines need to be specific for your industry and your audience and need careful consideration. You don’t have to worry about being too clever here, simply state what it is in the email in a clear concise way to encourage those who are interested in your offering to open.

The use of 'buzzwords'. Mailchimp recently conducted a study looking at the effectiveness of subject lines and found that there are four words that marketers need to try and avoid in their subject lines. The following words should be avoided as they have a negative effect on open rates as it screams “spam” to your recipient!

  • Free
  • Help
  • Percent off
  • Reminder

The length. Edit your emails rigorously. Long emails can destroy your recipients interest. It’s extremely easy to overcomplicate an email and make it longer than it needs to be but don’t waste your time when you don’t need to. It might seem like we are stating the obvious, but compelling and relevant content is essential for your email strategy. If your content isn’t relevant, your subscribers are more than likely to lose interest in your emails and begin to ignore or unsubscribe to them.

Behaviour based emails. Automated behaviour based emails have been known to produce open rates as high as 70%, almost four times the general open rates seen in 2014. For email marketers to succeed in the world of Inbox Zero, they need to send more individualised emails based on customer’s interests, as well as individually timed and triggered emails. Triggered emails are not only segmented but they are also sent in a timely manner, which ensures they are relevant to the subscriber, so everyone’s a winner!

It’s also important to remember that one size does NOT fit all! You need to build relationships with your subscribers, which will in turn allow you to personalise content to meet their individual interests and needs. Personalisation is the hot topic in the email world nowadays. Consumers no longer tolerate a generic relationship with their brand. They want content that is relevant to them.

The From Name. Add a first name into the from name field. This often has more influence for open rates than the subject line, so it’s definitely worth doing as it can add much more value to your email. At Emailcenter, we recommend using a ‘First name - company name’ combination which generally gets 20-25% more opens. Not only that, keeping a consistent From address will keep consistency in the recipient’s inbox, which helps avoid your email being placed in the dreaded junk mail folder.

Mobile friendly. It’s more important than ever that you are aware of how your email is displayed on smartphones and tablets and you need to make sure it’s optimised for these devices. Mobile device usage is growing every single year and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. In fact, the number of smartphone users worldwide will surpass 2 billion in 2016 so it’s absolutely essential that emails are responsive and optimised for small screen sizes. To do this you can use a single column template, have one call-to-action, use larger text and overall just be as succinct as possible.

Text to image ratio. Aim for a text to image ratio of 60/40. Even though it may not affect your deliverability, the 60/40 rule is a good balance to aim for. Yes, it’s crucial that your email is nicely formatted and eye-catching but sadly you can’t just ditch the text and send image only emails. There needs to be sufficient text in the email to grab the attention of the recipient and explain what the email is about.

Test before you send. As an email marketer, you should test all elements of your campaign to ensure your emails are delivered error free and render correctly in the inbox. There are lots of different performance related tests to help you get the most out of your campaigns, such as multivariate testing and split (A:B) testing, but if you're not sure where to start, try testing the following:

  • Design
  • Subject line
  • From name
  • Links
  • Copy
  • Personalisation

We are not the first to say it, but Inbox Zero really is like the holy grail of the digital world. You may think inbox zero has been introduced to prevent your email campaigns from reaching recipients inboxes, but the truth is, Inbox zero is ultimately there to help block the billions of spam messages that are sent daily. Inbox Zero is not going anywhere. As email marketers, we just need to learn to win at it. As long as you follow the guidelines above, you should still enjoy high deliverability rates and a great return from your email marketing efforts - inbox zero or no inbox zero.

Are you in need of an email marketing platform in order to engage with your subscribers via automated, relevant and highly targeted email campaigns? Then click here to learn more about Emailcenter and our email marketing services.