Zero email, how to get things done Part one - reaching Inbox Zero

Posted on: November 20, 2013 by Jan Krans

Atos-Getting-Things-Done-Hamberg-Jan-KransMaybe you already know we are running a Zero email program at Atos. The objective of this program is to implement smarter ways of working and as a positive side effect the total amount of internal mail sent by employees will decrease to the bare minimum.

Great stuff, but I was asking myself, what could I do to contribute to our company’s ambition? And to be frank the answer is rather easy and the decision is tough. In three short posts I will share my personal experience during the journey to Zero, maybe it will inspire you to take on the challenge as well. This first post will concentrate on how you can tame your inbox.

Email is a habit, an addiction; it is a tough nut to crack, especially if you think you are mastering your inbox as a ninja. Yes, I’m into GTD (Getting Things Done) and Inbox Zero, I needed to, because a few years ago, before the Zero email announcement, I was in constant battle with all incoming messages. Reading, organizing, (re-)acting, archiving, scrolling and searching, because I didn’t have a real effective and efficient email processing habit. In essence GTD is a very simple and very powerful ‘stuff’ processing framework to close open loops and thereby free your mind to get real work done. So a few years back, before the Zero email program started, I applied this method to my inbox by creating the email folders ‘To do’, ‘Waiting for’, ‘Maybe later’, ‘Short archive’ and ‘Reference’, in combination with Outlook Quick Steps and a few email rules. Then I took the decision to stick to it for a month this should be enough time to create a new routine. So I turned off email notifications and selected two time slots a day for email processing and blocked this in my calendar. I vividly remember, the first week, feeling the constant urge to check my email. I was fighting my email addiction, but after a while you will overcome these email withdrawal symptoms and new habit kicks in.

The routine: Select message, decide if it is actionable, if no, click ‘Delete’, ‘Reference’ or ‘Short archive’. If the email is actionable you ask yourself if you are the right person to take the action, if not, you defer it to the right person by forwarding the message. This message will now show up in your ‘Waiting for’ folder. If you have to take the action, ask yourself the question if it’s urgent or not. If not, the email will be moved to the ‘Maybe later’ folder. If the email is urgent and you can do it within a minute or two, do it. If it will take more than 15 minutes, it’s a ‘project’ and you will click ‘Transfer email to agenda item’ to reserve the necessary time in your agenda. If it will take more than 2 but less than 15 minutes you will click ‘To do’ and it will show up on your ‘To do’ folder. You repeat the cycle for all received email. When you reach Inbox Zero you go to your ‘To do’ folder and start processing tasks at hand.

To become more effective with email apply some simple email etiquette for sending email.

1. Start subject line with one of the 3 following abbreviations:

- FYI (For Your Information), no action is required of recipient - RR (Response Request), when you expect a reply - and AR (Action Required), when you expect an action

2. Use a very clear and to the point subject line

3. Write the email from a sender perspective

4. Start with one or two sentences explaining context the why of the email

5. What are the actions expected of the recipient(s)

6. Put only people on the CC when it services a concrete purpose.

As a result of actions taken time spent on email dropped significantly and thereby gaining a few extra hours a week, but more importantly my inbox was not out-of-control anymore and delivering a great peace of mind. Maybe the GTD system will also work in your situation, maybe you already implemented another system to make you more effective.

How did you tame your Inbox?


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About Jan Krans
Director Enterprise Collaboration, Social Collaboration & Knowledge Sharing and member of the Scientific Community
Jan Krans is Group Director Enterprise Collaboration, Social Collaboration & Knowledge Sharing, a member of the Scientific Community and a Lecturer at The Hague University. Jan is specialized in new ways of working in combination with social business and he likes to surf. Not only the web, but also waves and wind, to get a clear mind and to be connected to nature’s forces. Do you want to be in contact? Just send a tweet to @Vivjan or drop a line at

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