Getting to inbox zero

According to David Allen, we should get clear daily. Does this mean daily inbox zero for email? I feel like if I got to inbox zero daily, especially with email, that’s all I would do.

gtd inbox zero










Coach Kelly Forrister:
Great question. It’s really a daily balance of the 3 types of work, as described in GTD’s Threefold Nature of Work model:

  • Defining work (getting clear)
  • Predefined work (things already scheduled for you to do that day)
  • Unplanned work (All of the things that show up for you to handle each day)

While inbox zero every day is a great goal, you don’t want to sacrifice predefined work or unplanned to only do defining. Some people have such high volume too that getting in to zero each day just isn’t realistic. And those less than two minute ones can chew your day away quickly. That said, most people, in my coaching experience, don’t spend nearly enough time on defining because they don’t consider it “real work.” And, they have so much backlog that it seems unattainable.

Defining is as much of your work as anything else. To figure out how much defining time is realistic for you, take the average number of emails you get a day and divide by 2. That will give you number of minutes required. For example, if you get 200 emails, you need 100 minutes to clarify those. For most people, it works out to about an hour or two a day just for dedicated processing (not in one sitting necessarily).

At the very least, your Weekly Reviews should drive everything to zero. And if that feels like too much to do in one sitting, do the Get Clear part of the Review one day and Get Current and Creative the next.


For more support on how to get to Inbox Zero, check out the webinars on GTD Connect and the free article on getting your inbox to zero.


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1 Comment

  1. Getting to inbox zero for email for me means applying the two-minute rule as I process my inbox, and everything else is sent to my action list (long replies, documents I need to review, requests for larger pieces of work, etc). Achieving that should not be too hard. For a lot of online GTD tools, you get a mail address you can forward these mails to and a task is automatically created for you.

    Being able to quickly triage all inboxes is extremely valuable because of the simplicity of having everything in a single place.

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