Stop! Your Inbox Is Not a To Do List

Why You Need Inbox Zero

If you are using your email inbox like a to-do list, I want you to stop. Every time you open your email, here’s what you are doing. You open the new emails and look through all of them. Then you decide if you should respond to any of them right then and there. Then you think you’ll get to the rest of it later. So you let it sit in your inbox.

This is not serving you.

Now, you have to scan every email in your inbox and decide if there’s something you should do with it. That may be fine if you have ten or less emails, and even that is pushing it. You are wasting time by doing it that way.

Instead, I want you to consider inbox zero. You have reached inbox zero when all of the emails in your inbox have been deleted, delegated, archived, replied to, done, or postponed.

When there are zero emails in your inbox, it’s like you’ve gotten everything done on your to-do list. It’s the same feeling you get when you’ve cleaned out a file cabinet or closet and made everything look nice and neat. Everything is filed where it should be, and everything is in its appropriate storage container.

What Inbox Zero Looks Like


What Inbox Zero Feels Like


Alright, I’ll admit to living inside my email. This was especially true for me when I was the sole admin on our team and I was checking my lead agent’s email in addition to my own.

I use dual monitors and would leave my email open on the left screen while I do most of my work on the right screen. That way I could see when a new email came and jump on it right away.

You know what that got me? Frazzled nerves and headaches!

Now, I still leave my email open all day, and I stay in the Drafts folder. There’s never anything new in there so there will never be a number (indicating the number of unread emails) on the email tab. That way I’m not distracted by new email. I typically leave my calendar open on my left screen. That makes it easier for me to see what time block I’m in.

Getting to Inbox Zero

“That great, Elizabeth. How do I get to inbox zero?”

I’m so glad you asked!


When it’s time to open your email, scan everything and determine what you can delete without even opening. If you find yourself deleting things regularly, you must unsubscribe from those emails. Deleting without opening is a waste of your time. Take a few seconds to unsubscribe so you won’t have to keep deleting.


Yes, I know. You are the admin so most stuff gets delegated to you, right? Think about this though. Clients often have questions that are best answered by their lender, escrow officer, or attorney. Please don’t attempt to answer those questions even if you know the answer. You’re just going to keep getting those kinds of questions unless you train the client to ask the right person. Remember, the goal here is to spend less time answering emails.

To ensure good customer service, the key to delegating is to make sure the person you delegated to actually follows through and helps the client. So you need a way to set a reminder to check back on that.

I like to use MixMax to pop the email back into my inbox at a future day and time to remind me to check back. This is the kind of stuff that can fall through the cracks unless you are diligent about it. It’s nice if the person to whom you delegated the email copies you in on their response, and we all know that doesn’t happen as often as we like. This way, when you get the email returned to your inbox, you can ask the client if they received the answer they were looking for and provide great customer service that way.


You get to choose what’s important to you here. I don’t recommend archiving everything though. There will come a time when you have reached the end of your storage capacity and be forced to delete emails or other items in your Drive (if you are using Gmail). I archive all emails with clients and often I will also copy the communication into the notes section of our CRM. That way I have the information in two places and if another team members needs to see that communication, it’s in the CRM.

I also archive anything I think I might need later. Google search is so good that often I will search my email for a document rather than looking on my computer because I forgot what I named the document and where I put it. Google lets me try several search terms and will often pop up with the exact thing I need on the first try.

Reply or Do

If you can reply to the email or perform the task requested in the email in two minutes or less, go ahead and do that the first time you open the email. Yes, even if you have other unopened emails and your curiosity is driving you nuts. It’s only two minutes, I promise you can handle it.

This even applies evening and weekends. I do encourage you though that if you are going to reply to an email while you are not normally in the office, that you use the Send Later function in MixMax. MixMax will send the email for you at a time of your choice so that the recipient doesn’t receive an email from you during off hours and then think you will respond whenever they ask you something.

Here’s how to Send Later in MixMax:


When you come across something that takes longer than two minutes, you can postpone the email. Since we’re not treating our inbox like a to-do list, I like to move the email to a separate file rather than using MixMax to bring it back to my inbox at a later time. That way, I can time block for the activity in the email.

For instance, whenever a new review comes in, I like to add it to the email newsletter I put out every Friday. So when I receive those, I will move them to a folder called Friday Email. That way, when it’s time to write the newsletter, I can go to that folder and choose which review I’m going to use. Once I’ve copied it into the newsletter, I delete the email.

For everything else, I have a folder named ATTENTION. I put it in all caps so it’s easy to find. I will move the email to that folder and I will also mark it Unread. That way, I can see at a glance that I have pending emails in that folder.

Follow the Steps Every Time You Open Your Email

So that’s it. Now you just have to follow these steps every time you open your email. Don’t have time to follow the steps? Then don’t open your email. Or, if you do and you are going to leave emails in your inbox, mark them as unread. Then follow the steps the next time you open your email. Remember, the idea is not let the emails pile up in your inbox. You have do something with them.

Got an email plan or a set of folders that works for you? Tell us about it in the comments! Do you like these types of “how-to” posts? Leave a comment!


  1. Christine Jones

    My emails don’t get deleted until I have what I need back, but they don’t stay unread and my goal is to get to Inbox Zero as Elizabeth calls it. I use Gmail as my email platform and they have different coloured stars, I created a code for myself (red = need to look at, orange = waiting for something back, yellow = short term hold [for an upcoming webinar for example], green = long term storage [for KW Family Reunion for example], and blue = education I want to hold onto). I try to sort through my stars about once a week so they don’t pile up on me and that also helps me remember there are things I still need when I see the orange stars that I follow up with

    1. Elizabeth (Post author)

      Brilliant! I love a girl with a system!

    2. Jeannette

      For the short term and long term, I have a *tickler file and anything that has something to do with a future date gets put in that file, like family reunion tickets,next Friday webinars log in details, airline reservations, etc.

  2. Jessica Lace

    I use Gmail labels to the max… every single email that comes in (unless I delete it immediately) gets labeled. This way I can pull up the specific emails that need to be addressed when I am time blocking for that activity. Once I have addressed the email I will archive it and end the day with 0 emails in my inbox.

    1. Elizabeth (Post author)

      Great strategy Jessica!


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