Merlin Mann's "inbox zero" video is an excellent watch for anyone who has struggled with an overflowing email inbox and tried various things to cope with it. He has a GTD-inspired approach that likely works very well once you get yourself into a habit of following it religiously.

While I highly recommend watching the entire hour long video to get the excellent Q&A and more of his philosophy, the basic approach is simple: always empty your inbox. Figure out which actions you can apply to email and just do it.

His list is quite simple:

  • Delete: just get rid of it (or archive it)
  • Delegate: get someone else to deal with it
  • Respond: if it takes just a few minutes, do it right now
  • Defer: put it on a todo list, archive it, and deal with it later
  • Do: handle whatever the email actually needs you to do

Of course, the key piece if the discipline. No system in the world works well without it. But having a framework is an excellent start. And Merlin is an excellent presenter.

Posted by jzawodn at August 02, 2007 03:23 PM

Reader Comments
# Hooda Thunkit said:

My list is a bit shorter:

Archive and forget.



on August 2, 2007 04:57 PM
# chad said:

This is a lot like some advice I got from a coworker at yahoo, when you get a new task you should go through the four D's, in this order:

on August 2, 2007 05:48 PM
# fellow soaring pilot said:

Do it like an in basket on your desk


Nothing should work it's way back to the top of the pile.

on August 2, 2007 07:57 PM
# Greg Cohn said:

I'm on week 2 of zero inbox and holding steady! Using the GTD software plugin for outlook, which has a bit of a learning curve but works quite well if you're using Outlook as your primary mail/calendar/PIM client.

My 2 cents on the action items are that: it's easy to identify the deletes and quick actions (though you have to focus to stay in that mindset); it's easy enough to do the delegates but hard to keep track of the "waiting fors" without a good system; and harder to manage multiple groups / priorities / scopes of the larger-than-immediate to-dos, so focusing on processing them into direct next steps grouped into contexts is most helpful.

on August 3, 2007 11:02 AM
# Ted Zajac Jr said:

Funny thing. About 476 years ago (web time) Texas Intruments made me take a personal organization course. This predates the email inbox, we had real inboxes with paper in them!

We were advised to pick up each item and either deal with it or throw it away. No Second chances, no second looks.

Some things never change,

Ted Z

on August 6, 2007 03:42 PM
# Jeremy Palmer said:

Sounds like David Allen's recycled advice from "Getting Things Done". However, Merlin's spin with personal stories makes it interesting to hear again.

on August 6, 2007 09:33 PM
# Ken said:


I saw this post back when you made it in '07. Just curious if you actually tried it? If so how's it working out for you? Still doing things GTD style?


on January 11, 2009 09:11 PM
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. My current, past, or previous employers are not responsible for what I write here, the comments left by others, or the photos I may share. If you have questions, please contact me. Also, I am not a journalist or reporter. Don't "pitch" me.


Privacy: I do not share or publish the email addresses or IP addresses of anyone posting a comment here without consent. However, I do reserve the right to remove comments that are spammy, off-topic, or otherwise unsuitable based on my comment policy. In a few cases, I may leave spammy comments but remove any URLs they contain.