What to do instead of Inbox Zero - Productivity for Solopreneurs #99: Insights to getting things done

What to do instead of Inbox Zero

Last week I shared why you shouldn’t bother with the Inbox Zero strategy.

This week I’m sharing what to do instead.

The short answer is to find what works for you and keep doing it.

But if it was that easy, no one would have an overwhelming inbox.

Email clients have gotten a lot better about helping you manage your email.

I know figuring out how to get your newsletters into Gmail’s Primary tab is a hot topic and many people worry about it, but those tabs keep my email working for me.

Most email clients have some version of this (an email client is where you read and send email from, examples are Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc.).

For example, Outlook has a “Focused” and “Other” inbox.

Use these tools to your advantage.

If something ends up in a folder you don’t want it in, move it to the folder you do want it in.

Most email clients want to keep you happy, so they learn pretty quickly that your Mom’s emails are important, but the emails from that clothing store aren’t.

Having your email automatically sort your personal communications from the newsletters and business/store/sale updates makes quickly checking your email much easier.

It’s the difference between a quick email check that’s actually quick and efficient and an email check that’s distracting because you have to manually sort through so much stuff and you feel like you missed something important.

I have a Gmail inbox and I LOVE the tabs.

But I don’t use them all the way that they’re intended.

Here’s my breakdown:

  • Primary – personal communications, including emails from clients.
  • Social – Social media type and digest updates/emails (Meetup, Nextdoor, Instagram, Facebook, Quora, Goodreads, etc).
  • Updates – Newsletters that I want to read a day or two after they’re sent, payment emails (Paypal, Square, Stripe, etc).
  • Promotions – everything else. This tab is full of newsletters I get that I want to keep getting (although I keep an eye out for ones I regularly delete without reading and then unsubscribe from them). If I’m quickly clearing my email I’ll read the ones that catch my eye or if I have time I’ll open and skim each one.
  • Forums – I don’t use this tab.

One bonus tip.

Do you get emails from places that you’ve ordered from that you don’t want to unsubscribe from (because sometimes you do want to know about their sales), but their emails multiple times each week clutter your inbox?

Create a “Shopping” folder and when you get an email that belongs in that folder, create or update a rule that sends emails from that sender to the “Shopping” folder.

This way, you can open that folder every day or two and quickly scan for any emails that you want to open and delete everything else in that folder.

This also keeps these emails from cluttering up other folders of your inbox.

I’ll be talking about what to do instead of Inbox Zero on Wednesday at 1pm CT for this week’s Productivity for Solopreneurs: Insights to getting things done.

Do you have any questions about managing your inbox that you’d like answered? Comment below and let me know.

I’ll be live on Facebook talking about this on Wednesday at 1pm. The video event is below.

Productivity for Solopreneurs: Insights to getting things done #99

Why you shouldn't bother with Inbox Zero - Productivity for Solopreneurs #98 : Insights to getting things done

Why you shouldn’t bother with Inbox Zero

A while ago I was having lunch with some fabulous solopreneurs and the topic of email came up.

One of the ladies looked at me and said “Do you keep your inbox at zero? I bet you do!”

I surprised her by telling her I don’t keep my inbox at zero – at all. 

Looking at my main inbox right now I have nine read emails and five unread.

In my other inbox folders (it’s Gmail so I make use of the inbox tabs) I have 42 read emails and 32 unread.

Why don’t I do the “Inbox Zero” thing?

My job isn’t to closely monitor my email all day

I’ve tried doing the Inbox Zero thing in the past and all it did was result in me checking my email every 15-30 minutes to make sure I still had zero emails in my inbox. 

That makes it very difficult to get much else done effectively or quickly. 

And while keeping your inbox at zero all day isn’t actually the point of the Inbox Zero strategy, my brain seems to think it should be when I’ve tried it.

All email isn’t important

If the goal is to process ALL email each time I go into my inbox, then all email get’s treated with the same level of urgency.

Have an email from a client asking a question? Yes, reply fairly quickly. That makes sense.

Have a newsletter from someone you can’t immediately place? Read it NOW and make that inbox be zero! Well, that doesn’t seem like it’s the best use of your time.

What does make sense is to answer the urgent or important emails quickly now and come back to process/delete/read the other emails when you have time.

I don’t always have time to clear out my email every day.

Some days other things are more important than a newsletter in my inbox, even if it’s one that I LOVE to read.

AND I still want/need to respond to emails from clients, potential clients, and friends.

Don’t strive for an inbox of zero. It’s just not the best way to use your time.

Instead, find or create an inbox system that works for you and keeps your email at a manageable level where the important emails are responded to and the unimportant are quickly dealt with when appropriate.

Do you have any questions about managing your inbox that you’d like answered? Comment below and let me know.

Productivity for Solopreneurs: Insights to getting things done #98

Throw away your to-do list and do this instead

A friend sent me an article last week that talked about why he (the author, not the friend) didn’t use a to-do list anymore.

I’d seen the article before and others like it.

It’s actually less about not using to-do lists and more about why the way he was using a to-do list wasn’t working for him.

But more importantly, it reminded me that when I talk about to-do lists I might be thinking of something different than you are.

For you, a to-do list might be

  • The list of everything that you need to or want to get done
  • The place where you write everything that you need to get done for other people
  • Your list of tasks, phone calls, goals, reminders, and appointments that are coming up
  • The list of things you plan to get done if today is the perfect day with no interruptions or unexpected side tracks AND if you can get 12 hours of work done in 7 or less!
  • Something that you avoid like the plague because it makes you feel sick to your stomach when you create it or look at it

Well then, of course, to-do lists are the spawn of Satan!

Go ahead and stop using that to-do list.

Seriously. It’s not helping you.

When I talk about my to-do list it’s the things I’ve decided I’m going to do today.

It’s based off my weekly to-do list which comes from my goals and intentions for the month and the things that I do on a regular basis to make my business and day run.

A book I recently read referred to this as a “will-do list”. It’s the list of thing you will do today.

Here are two suggestions about how to create your own will-do list for tomorrow:

  • Decide 2-3 things (not projects) that you’ll complete tomorrow and write them down.
  • Look at how much time you have to work tomorrow and divide it by 2. Write down the tasks that you know you can complete in that amount of time.
    Example: Let’s say you have from 9-3 with an hour for lunch to work. That’s 2.5 hours worth of tasks (9-3 is 6 hours. 6 hours minus 1 hour for lunch is 5. And 5 divided by 2 is 2.5).

Try it for a week and see what happens.

I talk about this topic in the video below.

Productivity for Solopreneurs: Insights to getting things done #97

When is it time to unsubscribe?

Are you wasting time?

The places I find myself wasting time sometimes surprise me.

I LOVE listening to podcasts and last month when I slowed down quite a bit (you can read more about it here) I found myself realizing I had quite a backlog of podcast episodes to listen to.

I didn’t consider it wasting time though.

After all, listening to podcasts is something I do in my spare time.

But I found myself listening to some podcasts and regularly thinking something along the lines of “will the host please stop talking and wrap it up so I can start a different podcast.”

Hmmm, maybe there’s some information hidden in that thought that I should pay attention to.

But they were business/entrepreneur type podcasts that I felt I should be listening to.

Well, isn’t that a silly reason to keep listening to a podcast I regularly wish would be over.


This lead to some other small, but impactful changes in both my podcast listening habits and email.

You can watch it below.

Productivity for Solopreneurs: Insights to getting things done #96

If your weekly planning is regularly taking more than 20 minutes then something needs to change!

Last week I came across someone sharing about how to plan your week.

I LOVE hearing how other people do things and I had some time, so I started watching.

This person shared that she sets aside about 2 hours on Sunday to do her weekly planning.


If your weekly planning is regularly taking more than 20 minutes then something needs to change!

Here are some things that might be happening if it’s taking too long to plan your week:

  • You’re missing some simple and effective systems that make planning your week easy
  • You don’t know how much time you actually have to do work in your week
  • You don’t have a system for collecting new tasks or ideas that pop up during the week
  • You haven’t set clear goals for the month

We’re going to talk about that this week on Productivity for Solopreneurs: Insights to getting things done.

You can watch it (or the recording) below on Wednesday at 1pm.

Is this a problem for you?

Schedule a session with me by clicking here. You’ll leave knowing exactly what to do to make planning your week (and to-do list) easier.

Productivity for Solopreneurs: Insights to getting things done #94