Inbox zero: How a simple email management technique from a guy named Merlin can decrease your anxiety

by By Rachel Ray

10 min read

a screenshot of a gmail inboxEmails are a necessary evil in business today, and the sheer amount that we get can take a toll on anyone. Just reading each one and determining whether the information is pertinent to you is a task in and of itself, let alone engaging and replying to them. Merlin Mann, the productivity expert with an epic name, developed Inbox Zero as a way to organize and handle email. 

Utilizing Inbox Zero and a few other organizational methods, your inbox will become more manageable and your anxiety from staying on top of emails will decrease. Sounds good, right?

Now, take a moment to glance at your inbox. How many emails have been sitting in your inbox for over 24 hours? If the answer is anything other than zero, it is time to step back and reevaluate your strategy for managing email.

Why does Inbox Zero even matter?

Think of your emails as letters or pieces of paper on your desk (and likely spilling onto your floor). If you walked into work each day to that environment, you would think, “I can’t work like this” or “how am I supposed to find anything.” 

[bctt tweet=”Just because emails are electronic and don’t take up physical space, doesn’t mean their impact on our mental clarity is any less.”]

When your digital or physical workspace is cluttered, it is easy to get overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed. You will undoubtedly miss essential emails, deadlines, and opportunities.

When you miss emails or forget to take care of something you intended to, your ability to follow through slips. Follow-through is a marker of building trust, and when you are not able to do so, your relationship with your staff, colleagues, or boss can start to be affected.

A busy email inbox can also be visually and psychologically overwhelming. We have all looked at the number of emails that have come in after even the shortest meeting and can feel like it is a never-ending battle. When you compound it all together, you can start to feel like you will never get through it all.

How do I get to Inbox Zero?

mail icon with a number indicating an inbox zeroIf you are starting with a full inbox, you will need to dedicate serious time to clear it out. This may be time you feel like you don’t have, but the time you put in now to get yourself organized will multiple in the future in productivity and efficiency. If you need to, start with increments of time to chisel away at it. Decide which emails you need to keep and archive them in folders. 

Now that you have cleared your inbox, it is time to set yourself up to maintain it. With each email that comes in, you will need to determine which category it falls into:


1. No action needed: emails that are informational and do not require you to do a task. Archive or delete these emails as you see fit.
2. A simple reply: emails that can be answered in under 2-3 minutes. Take care of these as they come in and get them off of your plate. These are usually questions that someone else needs to be answered for them to complete a task, so taking care of these emails quickly can generally help others stay productive as well.
3. Additional action needed: emails that require you to follow up or complete a task. Based on your preference, snooze this email or add it to your to-do list to complete.

Email organization

Your primary focus should be getting rid of clutter. Unsubscribe from any emails that you don’t value, take action on, or read. Our time is precious, and we want to reduce the amount of time we spend weeding through the noise.

Utilize folders to stay organized. This may end up being a process to find what works for you and your mainframe, but here are a few examples to use as a springboard:

  • Action Required
  • Awaiting Response
  • Delegated
  • Archived
  • Trash

Some find it useful to create categories based on the subject, but incorporating some of the above folders could help maximize your ability to follow-through. Set reminders for yourself to check these folders frequently (once or twice a week) and archive the emails as they are completed.

Set realistic expectations

a laptop icon with a checkmark inside

The final component of your email organization project is to set a goal for yourself. 

Inbox Zero aims to get your inbox to have zero emails in it that are over 24 hours old. Will you achieve this every day? Maybe, maybe not. 

A great place to start is to clear your inbox by the end of your workweek. This will ensure you have taken care of any tasks that have funneled through that week and should ultimately lead to a reduction in stress and a more restful time off. 

Happy email organizing! VetSuccess would love to hear how it’s going for you and your staff. Share your perspective and experience here.


Rachel Ray the authorRachel began her veterinary career at Caring Hands Animal Hospital in 2007. She learned the ropes through nearly every position in the hospital as a CCS, assistant, inventory manager, office manager, and practice manager. In 2014, she moved into overseeing marketing efforts for all 8 locations. Rachel is passionate about the client experience, hospital culture, branding, technology, and time management. She earned her CVPM in 2018. She shares her home with her husband and two dogs. In her free time, she enjoys all the tv shows, reading, and traveling (10 countries and counting!).

Rachel Ray

Rachel Ray

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