<span class='p-name'>What I Use: Inbox Zero</span>

What I Use: Inbox Zero

In a continuing series of posts I’ll share tips, tricks, texts, and tools that I use on a daily basis. This week I’ll share something that keeps me sane…Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero & GTD

Several years ago I came across the “Inbox Zero” series of posts on the 43 Folders website and was immediately drawn in. The basic idea is that you use your email inbox as a “to-do” list for Getting Things Done (GTD). The idea behind Inbox Zero and GTD is developing a system to organize and tackle the vast amount of info and tasks you receive on a daily basis. You can review the talk from Merlin Mann below about Inbox Zero from 2007 at Google to learn more about the philosophy.

I don’t know about you…but I have a lot to do. I get a lot of emails, I read a lot, I build online, I socialize online, and it can sometimes get overwhelming. I’m often asked (ribbed) by colleagues asking if I sleep (no), but the real answer is that I try to develop a system for GTD…and try to stick to that system. I’ll write about GTD more in a later post…but the key idea here is finding ways to make your life a little bit more sane using some digital texts and tools. To that end, I spend time thinking about, and playing with new tools and systems to GTD. I also continuously review and audit these systems. I’ll share this on this series of “What I Use” posts.

Striving for Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is pretty simple. Get…and keep…your inbox at zero. This is a lot more challenging that it first seems.  There are tons of reviews online that will help you strive for Inbox Zero.  There is even a “nerd merit badge” that you can order to support the cause. There are many ways to achieve Inbox Zero. I’ll show you the system that works for me…and I think it’ll work for you.

If you’re that person that always has thousands of emails in your inbox and feels like a wave of work is going to drown you…this is for you. I always think about my father opening up his email inbox and having 1000s of emails lined up in various stages of completion. This is how to tame that email inbox.

Inbox Zero and gMail

I use gMail. I use the web browser to get in to my gMail account and manage everything. I forward my work email and everything into one email account. This simplifies my life because I can then use my Android phone and the gMail app (you can also use the iPhone/iPad app) to tame the inbox. While signed in to gMail, you’ll want to go to each of your email inboxes and select all…and then the “archive” button. gMail has been playing with different inboxes (Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, Forums)….I treat them all as individual inboxes and follow the same rule. So go ahead…select everything you see, and click that archive button.  It’ll take you some time as you move from page to page selecting and archiving everything.


Archiving of emails in gMail moves the email to the “All Mail” folder. It does not delete your email. You can go back to find and respond to old emails. More importantly, the search box in gMail is powerful and allows you to use a couple of keywords to look for the email, message, or information that you were trying to find. My strategy is to usually start searching using the name or email address of an individual and going from there.

As new emails come in, I respond to the email, and click the button for “Send and Archive.” This allows be to deal with the message, and not think about it again until later.



My Inbox is Zero…now what?

After you have archived everything, you can view the archived messages by clicking in your “All Mail” folder.


As I stated earlier, your emails will all be there waiting for you to scroll through. The nice thing is that you now have a nice, clean inbox with no messages. YES….it is a mental trick. Your emails are off in a different box, and not in your inbox. Believe me, psychologically it works. If I have a message in my inbox, it unnerves me and is a constant reminder that I have to address something. By responding, and archiving that message I can check that task off of my “to-do” list.

Mobile and tablet use is key

The primary way that I address and respond to email messages is my phone. When I wake up I swipe to instantly archive messages and get them out of my inbox. If it is something I need to spend more time responding to, I wait until I’m back at my computer to respond. This allows me to quickly archive the bulk messages, junk mail, and quick informational messages from colleagues or students.


Inbox Zero may seem like a trick, but it is a great way to GTD and serve as my “to-do” list. I’m able to tame my inbox and spend less time figuring out what to tackle first.



Image CC by Andrew Forgrave



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