43 Folders

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Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

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”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

43 Folders Series: Inbox Zero


Inbox Zero

These are posts from a special 43 Folders series looking at the skills, tools, and attitude needed to empty your email inbox — and then keep it that way. You can visit each of the posts by clicking the title.

And don’t miss the “Related Articles” for our all-time popular posts on productively dealing with email.

Looking for the Inbox Zero video?

The full 1-hour video for Merlin’s Inbox Zero presentation at Google is available for free down here — or check out this post about the video and slideshow.

Posts in the Inbox Zero series

  • 43F Series: Inbox Zero [Introduction] - “Clearly, the problem of email overload is taking a toll on all our time, productivity, and sanity, mainly because most of us lack a cohesive system for processing our messages and converting them into appropriate actions as quickly as possible.”
  • Inbox Zero: Articles of faith - “When I first suggested the email DMZ and said there was a way to get your inbox to zero in 20 minutes, I wasn’t lying. But I was using a definition of “empty” that may not square with your current conception of the email world. So let’s start with a few of my own articles of faith to ensure we’re on the same page going forward.”
  • Inbox Zero: Five sneaky email cheats - “In the words of the great Lucas Jackson: ‘Yeah, well, sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.’”
  • Inbox Zero: Where filters will and won’t help - “[F]ocus on creating filters and scripts for any noisy, frequent, and non-urgent items which can be dealt with all at a pass and later. ”
  • Inbox Zero: Delete, delete, delete (or, “Fail faster”) - “Just remember that every email you read, re-read, and re-re-re-re-re-read as it sits in that big dumb pile is actually incurring mental debt on your behalf. The interest you pay on email you’re reluctant to deal with is compounded every day and, in all likelihood, it’s what’s led you to feeling like such a useless slacker today.”
  • Inbox Zero: Schedule email dashes - “If you can get away from being driven by email’s motor and find a way to deal with your work mindfully and on your own terms, you may be startled to see how much easier it is to keep that inbox at zero.”
  • Inbox Zero: What’s the action here? - “Focus on finding the fastest and straightest path from discovery to completion, and your inbox fu will be strong.”
  • Inbox Zero: Processing to zero - “You’ll never stay ahead of this stuff if you don’t recalibrate starting today. Give each message as much attention as it needs and not one iota more. Remember the contextuality of triage: if you keep trying to care for dead and doomed patients, you’ll end up losing a lot of the ones who could have actually used your help.”
  • Inbox Zero: What have you learned? - “Try to learn from what you’ve just experienced, and reapply your new wisdom to the way you treat email every day — nay, every time that little “new mail” chime sounds. You’ve just come out the other side of productivity bankruptcy and have, perhaps for the first time, a clean record and a fresh start.”
  • Inbox Zero: Better Practices for staying (near) zero - “As a person who has done the near-impossible and managed to establish a temporary beachhead against the occupying email army, you are your own best expert in what needs to change to keep things together, but I’d like to share a few things that have helped me stay email-sane (most of the time).”

These are, to date (2006-03-13), our most popular posts on email and were recently collected in a recap article, “Becoming an Email Ninja.”

  • Five fast email productivity tips “There’s been a lot of great discussions about email productivity going around on sites I enjoy, so I thought I’d throw in five no-brainers that I’ve seen help a lot of folks.”
  • Quick tips on processing your email inbox - “The basic idea is to firewall processing as a discrete phase you go through no more than every hour or two at the most. For God’s sake, don’t live in your Inbox if there’s any way you can avoid it.”
  • Writing sensible email messages - “As we’ve seen before, getting your inbound email under control will give you a huge productivity boost, but what about all the emails you send? If you want to be a good email citizen and ensure the kind of results you’re looking for, you’ll need to craft messages that are concise and easy to deal with. ”
  • Five email tics I’d love for you to lose - “For the love of God, people; can we get the word out on these?”
  • My email diet - “Gmail’s made me see the value of having very few actual folders for storing new and archived mail. It makes it much easier to track and organize your mail on the fly, plus Google’s search and labeling tools let you confidently shunt items out of your inbox constantly without fear of having stuff disappear. So I decided to try a little experiment.”
  • Fresh Start: The Email DMZ - “Think about it: how much stuff in your life has gotten unmanageable simply because you decided at some point that you were too behind to ever make a difference? More than anything you need a way to recover these projects from the brink — to find the handle that lets you stop making it worse and start seeing a way back toward daylight.”
  • 4-1/2 tiny ways to master Mail.app - “Seriously, though, suck it up and just check for new mail as seldom as your job and your patience will possibly permit. Really push the envelope on this, even just for half a day, and see if you don’t notice a difference. The world actually can spin without you for a while (but just a little while).”
  • Open Thread: The value and quality of email at work - “If I ran a company and learned that most of my employees were spending that much time touching internal email, I’d ask my managers: ‘For how many and which employees is six hours of email each day adding value to the company?’ Maybe that’s just me.”

New: Merlin’s Inbox Zero Presentation

Merlin does a live presentation on Inbox Zero from time to time. The latest version of the presentation was delivered on July 23, 2007 at a Google Tech Talk in Mountain View, CA. You can download a PDF of the slides for the presentation and can watch the 58-minute video of the talk and Q&A right here:

Get Inbox Zero -- Live and in Person

Bring Inbox Zero to your company by inviting Merlin to speak at your next event. It’s fast and painless to book Merlin through Premiere. »

About Merlin

Merlin's picture


Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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