5 Steps to Achieving Inbox Zero

If you have more than twenty emails in your inbox right now you may need to research methods on how to manage your email. Inbox Zero is a way of life that promotes a clean and empty email inbox at all times. Once you check your email, you clean it immediately. Create todo items, scribble in reference items, or reply to people in touch with you as soon as you see an email.

Getting started isn’t easy and can be a daunting task. These 5 steps will help break down the process and hopefully mitigate the torture of making big changes to your chaotic inbox.

1. Get the right email app

Inbox Zero is a methodology that can technically be used with any software but that doesn’t mean it isn’t easier and encouraged by certain apps and services. Basic email apps like Gmail, ’s standard Mail.app, and other generic email clients are some of the most bare-boned ways to manage email. Some people may like the lack of fluff — or in Apple’s case, the addition of their machine learning and sketching features. Ugly and primitive email clients can be great for staying focused on what really matters.

Email clients that encourage Inbox Zero make it very obvious and are difficult to use any other way. Apps like Airmail, Inbox by Gmail, and Outlook all have distinct features that make you want to have an empty inbox.

Conveniences like snoozing email to a later date, bundling promos and updates into folders automatically, and displaying animations when you reach Inbox Zero are great ways to accomplish effectively managed email. More features like these means less you have to manage yourself. Being reminded about an email you send out a month later if there’s no response is surely a job the email client can handle without you cluttering your todo list with outreach tasks like that. Although they’re not essential, they’re great to have.

2. Create folders

You don’t keep all your documents, photos, programs, and links on your desktop — I hope you don’t. You probably have a documents directory with subdirectories and even folders inside that to categorize your Photoshop files along with your wedding photos and all separated from your essays you need for school.

Managing email as files is a great way to think of how to store them when they act as reference items or reminders. Creating folders in your email client for things like "waiting", "reference", and "family vacation" bring so much value to your workflow. Search functionality in email clients are great nowadays but there’s no better feeling than opening up your email client, navigating to a folder, and instantly finding the confirmation number for the musical tickets you’re bringing a friend to while waiting on line.

3. Archive everything

The most action you’re ever going to take regarding your email is when you finally decide to archive everything. If you’re like most people, you keep hundreds of emails in your inbox and "mark as read" the ones you want to forget about without actually allocating them someplace or deleting them. This probably means you have tens, hundreds, or even thousands of emails all in one place and always in your face.

Archiving is the safest thing you can do with an email. Nothing is getting deleted and everything is still searchable. You’re merely getting it out of your face and not being bothered with it until that one time every few years you find yourself making obscure search queries to find an old email again.

The recommended method of going about this is simply selecting all and archiving it. You’ll feel better, sleep better, and live longer.

4. Hew to the Inbox Zero mindset

Now that your environment is built you have to modify some behavior to maintain it. I never leave people with a beautiful system just to ditch them and have them mess it up a week later. There’s a mindset that has to be learned and adhered to.

In short – understand the Inbox Zero workflow by checking your email at certain and scheduled times of the day, taking action on all emails immediately whether you’re replying on the spot, deferring it to a later date, archiving it on the spot, or creating action items based on it that you have to take care of later. Your inbox is for getting mail, not storing nor prioritizing them.

5. Use your trusted system

The most effective way of managing your email is to not manage it at all. If you have a trusted task manager all your email can flow directly into it. Any new mail can act as an action item — something has to be done with this; it may be as simple as recording it in the journal or as complicated as writing a four-page proposal for a new customer. No matter what has to be done with it, it’s better if it’s managed in your trusted system than in your inbox. If your inbox is your only trusted system, that calls for some further thought and action into your system.

Email is the best and worst thing in the world. Inbox Zero makes it slightly less terrible. Taking action on these steps and learning the ways of a well-managed and effective email will make you a more productive and happier person.

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