Inbox Zero

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

Ladies and gentlemen, today marks a momentous occasion: I have achieved Inbox Zero.

It all started several months ago. I had heard about the Inbox Zero concept, and even listened to Merlin Mann’s presentation to Google about it, but I had done nothing to reach that goal of having an uncluttered inbox.

Nothing, that is, until my inbox reached 1,002 messages.

Ever since I found out about Inbox Zero, I had been examining how I use my mailboxes. I realized that I do use the inbox as a sort of “action item” area, and having Gmail, there was no reason for me not to be archiving messages that I wanted to save in order to get them out of my inbox.

The Inbox Zero philosophy says to take one of 5 actions with incoming e-mail (these are explained in greater detail in Merlin’s talk at Google):

  1. Delete or Archive it
  2. Delegate it (and followup)
  3. Respond (quickly)
  4. Defer (put it aside for later)
  5. Go do it!

With these rules in mind, I managed to prevent my inbox from growing any further past the one-thousand mark. I started searching my inbox for recurring e-mails from companies such as my bank, my credit card, Waste Management, and so on. I deleted or archived all of those old e-mails, and then set up filters to deal with new e-mails from those companies so that I never have to see them if I don’t want to (they’re automatically marked as read and archived).

That alone reduced my inbox by almost a third! I then took on the time-consuming task of going through all of my e-mails, deciding what to archive and what to delete. I started with my oldest e-mails and worked forward in time, deleting most things, and archiving the rest.

Every once in a while I found an e-mail that I had saved because I wanted to add someone’s e-mail address to my contacts, or it had a link to a website I wanted to visit, or something similar. I labeled these messages as “Action Required” and left them in my inbox so I could deal with them once I was done.

Whittling my inbox down to just the new and “Action Required” messages didn’t happen in one day, or even one week. The process took about three weeks altogether. Although I didn’t work on it every day of those three weeks, on most days, I would try to make it through at least 20 to 50 e-mails. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Actually achieving Inbox Zero was a bit tricky, since I get a lot of new e-mails all the time, some of which have actions that I need to defer. In fact, if it weren’t for the e-mails that I’ve had to defer, I probably would have made it to Inbox Zero a month or two ago.

Today, however, is the day that I achieved this notable goal. Best of all, this contributes very strongly toward my New Year’s resolution to get caught up and stay caught up. Now that my inbox is in good shape, perhaps I can focus my attention on my Google Reader.

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  1. Mara

    I’m impressed!! When I started back at my job about 21 months ago, I resolved to keep my inbox in order. I now have 5600 emails. Eh. My personal email has 448 pages of messages, however many that is, but at least they’re somewhat organized. I’ve had the same address since 2001 or so, but that only goes back to 2004 when I cleaned house. It just seems impossible to get caught up. You’ve been an inspiration though! Maybe someday.

  2. The key is not to be overwhelmed by the size of the task. Come up with a solid system of organization and apply it to your incoming e-mails. This will prevent the situation from getting worse and get you into a good pattern. Then, whenever you check your e-mail or have a few spare minutes, go through your old e-mails and delete or archive them as appropriate. It will take a while, but eventually you’ll tackle your inbox.

  3. Congrats! I’ve been a proud follower of Inbox Zero for some time now. My inbox never has more than four or five e-mails in it at the end of the day. And, since I do it with every e-mail – work, First Sight, and personal, it helps me keep my life in check.

    Actually, I can’t wait to show off my inboxes tomorrow when I go to Google’s offices for a usability study. $75 and a Google t-shirt – Yippie!

  4. First I saw this, and then later I went to log into my Otherinbox account, and … it was down. And you know what they had on their homepage, to watch while I waited for the end of the update? Inbox Zero.

    I think the Net is sending me a signal. Can’t stop the signal…

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