7 Steps to Inbox Zero for the ADHD Mind

June 18, 2010 Douglas Cootey

If you are like me, your ADHD affects how you manage email. There's just so much of it. Email can become confusing and overwhelming in a hurry. Spam, shared links, final warnings from the electric company. Often, my email account is my own personal Pandora's Box. Today, I discuss my system to get on top of the inbox without simply deleting it all.


How the ADHD Mind Sometimes Deals with Email

I have four email addresses and a Facebook account. I used to have an email address for every hobby, interest, and need. Now just the four. Life is better since joining Emailaholics Anonymous. Thanks for asking. Still, I don't stay on top of all of them.

If you are an adult with ADHD, you are lucky to remember to check on your email, never mind stay on top of it. Since getting an iPhone, I've done a better job because the iPhone email icon has a red badge that updates live with the unread number of messages, but once it gets up to 100+, I just tune it out. Who has time to read 100+ emails‽ Sometimes I've had three times that. That's why I'm a strong proponent for wiping the slate clean periodically.

This month, I made the goal to get on top of all my mail, especially my Facebook account. Previously, I suggested you could archive or delete all your backlogged email as the easiest solution. But what if deleting isn't an option? What if, perish the thought, some of those emails are actually important? But many of those emails could be the distraction you don't need that day. How's an ADHD mind to cope with all the email chaos?

Let's take Facebook as an example. It's an inelegant email system. There are no folders. No methods for archiving. No way to forward to another address. Anything you want to save must be copied and pasted into another document. Yet I had over a year of letters in there—a cornucopia of e-missives from business, friends, and family. I couldn't delete them all, yet I had avoided dealing with the mess because it was going to be a giant time-eater.

Using Adult ADHD Hyperfocus To Handle Email Overload

Here's how I attacked the problem and used my ADHD hyperfocus as an upside:

  1. Set timer for 30 minutes - This was my target goal. The timer also adds a sense of urgency—for me, it kicks in the adrenaline and provides hyperfocus.
  2. Delete old letters I've already replied to - Be certain to scan quickly. Don't let yourself get sucked into rereading them all over again.
  3. Grabbed important replies and saved them to a file.
  4. Triage the emails awaiting a reply - I wouldn't bother replying to anything older than three months for friends or a six months for business.
  5. Looked at clock and panicked - Be prepared to do this often. With eleven minutes to go I hadn't even started replying to letters. I began deleting. The time was helping me prioritize.
  6. Reply to the most important letters - I selected only five to deserve a reply. I'd already missed any opportunities that were buried in there, so I chose the five most likely to deserve my time.
  7. Inbox Zero - After I had finished pruning, I deleted everything and had an empty inbox.


Benefits of Managing Your Email

What a mess! The whole process took an hour and fifteen minutes. And what gems did I discover? How about an offer to have my fractal art displayed in a math building on a college campus. They wrote me ten months ago so that wall space is likely already covered. I also discovered a request to feature my writings on another website. Hey, only SIX months ago. Sheesh! I'm bad. That last letter was one of the five I chose to reply to. I see that as an opportunity already gone, but I felt the letter deserved an acknowledgment.

I have three other email accounts I will apply the same techniques to, though I'll archive and delete most of it. Inboxes give most people a hard time. Email can be work, so we tend to avoid organizing it. Yet, opportunities of business and communication are missed as we let our inbox become a lawn overgrown with weeds. Set your mind to put a stop to it, and good luck. Let me know how you prefer to manage your email in the comments below.

APA Reference
Cootey, D. (2010, June 18). 7 Steps to Inbox Zero for the ADHD Mind, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Douglas Cootey

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