Zero Inbox: Your Path to Email Nirvana

Today, I saw a tweet that says it all:

There are plenty of productivity specialists and thought leaders with email management systems. My favorites by far always center around the concept of zero inbox.  Zero inbox is very simple at it’s core: you (somehow) process all of your email, eventually reaching a point where you have no more emails in your inbox. Sound like heaven? Then read on.

Reaching Zero Inbox

First? You need to have a plan to process all of that incoming stuff.  Here are a few tips loosely based on David Allen’s GTD system, and you can find more here:

  • Plan a specific time (or times) during the day to go through your messages
  • Make a decision about every message. You might take an action (respond, delete)  immediately, or file for later review (defer) or forward to someone else (delegate).
  • Move the message! Responded messages can be stored in reference folders or a general archive, deleted messages obviously go in the trash. Deferred messages should be placed into an appropriate file/folder, such as “monthly bills” or “receipts”.  Delegated messages should be placed into a folder to check periodically until a response is received.
  • Review your folders for “actionable” items – stuff you need to do – regularly. Once a day you might check over your folders for daily to dos, and once a week you might do a more thorough review to follow up on items you delegated, check to see if items deferred have become actionable, and clean out emails you no longer need.

Use the right tools

One word: Gmail. It’s worth switching email systems for this. Use Gmail’s built in Archive system to archive mail,  and use labels to create virtual folders (nested labels, too!).  You might even automate it using Gmail’s filters, and SmartLabels. If you took my advice and set up Priority Inbox, you can keep an eye on important email regularly throughout the day.

Consider this:

  • Forward those “To Do” emails to a task system like Producteev right away.
  • At your desktop in Gmail,  emails relating to events can be easily turned into Google Calendar events.
  • Create events for paperless bills on their due date, then label as “Bills”.
  • Tell Producteev and Google Calendar to notify you once a day in the morning of all the items due/scheduled that day – instant agenda.

It’s a relief to know what you have to do

It seems terrifying at first, but the knowledge that the stuff on your to do list is the stuff you should be spending time on is a huge weight off the mind. More often than not, we procrastinate simply because we aren’t sure of what to do next. And the longer you wait, the more stressful determining that next step seems.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think in the comments!

About MommyGeek

Caitlin, a.k.a MommyGeek, is a member of the iGeneration. This means she’s super into technology, and when the robots take over the world, will either be one of the first killed (she knows too much) or recruited to help enslave you (she knows too much – and sympathizes with the robots). She runs Rent a Geek Mom web design, and writes documentation, tutorials and works as Support at Headway Themes.


  1. Carol P says:

    Some day I’ll get a chance to do this, but for now I have 21K+ unreads LMAO Seriously I just roll my eyes nowadays.

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  2. Darcey says:

    Though I don’t do the traditional “zero” inbox, I do only keep emails that have action items associated with them in my inbox. Everything else gets filed as soon as the action has been completed. It really does help keep me organized and less overwhelmed by email.

    I try to sort through everything in the morning and again in the afternoon, to make sure my “to do” list is accurate.

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  3. IzzyMom says:

    I wish I could have all those features in AppleMail because I am DROWNING in email every day of my life.

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  4. I lerves the gmail. My internets stuff goes to gmail. My real life mommy crap is verizon. I read it then go delete, delete, delete. Feels good.

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