How I “Zero My Inbox” (Part #1/3 — Gmail Walkthrough)

This system helps me to keep my inbox as empty and organised as possible.

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As remote working has ramped up, so has the amount of emails reaching my inbox. In all fairness I do have to mention that a large portion consists of educational emails I voluntarily signed up for. Think of mailings from tech or tooling companies that share useful tips and tricks in their weekly newsletter, or writers I follow who send me an overview of their latest works. My inbox much resembles a unique study program that I can tailor to my personal interests and work on whenever I want!

I don’t read these “educational” emails immediately. They’re not urgent and don’t require a response, so I let them chill in my inbox until I pick a dedicated time slot to consume them thoroughly, usually once per week on a quiet evening, when I can relax and really take in what I’m reading in peace without any rush.

Of course I can’t ignore all my emails until a time that better suits me. When contacts write to me directly, a reply from my side eventually is required.

I’m a big fan of “inbox zero”. The cleaner my inbox is, the better. An empty inbox to me is as nice as a clean, tidy apartment. It gives me more mental peace, more headspace. I tend to feel overwhelmed and unable to breathe if there are too many “open tasks” or emails in my inbox. If I can scroll down, that means the inbox is too full and action needs to be taken immediately.

How does one get his or her inbox closer to zero?

This is the main system I follow.

  • Add a folder structure with labels and sublabels
    I do this because I cannot stand looking at an endless stream of clutter (or emails) in just one folder. I need organisation. Therefore, I label and archive. My simplified structure and one you could apply is:
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Labels inside your Gmail can be organised in the left sidebar. Scroll all the way to the bottom, click “More”. A dropdown will open. Scroll further down and click “Create new label”. A popup will appear, where you can name your label (folder) as you please, and sublabel, or nest it underneath another one if you want.

  • Keep to-do’s in the inbox
    Important emails where I need to do something, such as update information in a tool, or reply to someone on a different platform after receiving a notification to my inbox. Those stay in the inbox, forever, until I complete the task at hand. To me it doesn’t matter if I have read the email or not. Inside the inbox = unfinished. This is the law. Each time I open my inbox, the email will be there, staring at me, until I get rid of it. Once completed, I archive the email in the designated folder.
  • Open and/or delete promotional emails
    There are some brands I follow and like to receive mailing from, just in case there’s a good deal I must snatch. I open them to see what’s up, and immediately delete them. No need to keep them, as I now am informed and can always visit their website. Email designs I like a lot I archive in a folder “Newsletter Inspo”. When I receive too many promotional emails for my liking, unsubscribing is always an option.
  • One word: Archive.
    Imagine your clothing closet. Do you dump or throw all your clothes, shoes and jackets into the abyss that now looks like a massive pile? Or do you neatly sort them, fold them and put them in straight piles so that they can easily be found? The same must be done with your inbox. Create labels to archive emails under (they are like folders). Your emails will be more easy to find.
  • Archive educational emails automatically
    I’ve recently started adding labels to incoming emails, to keep them out of my inbox. I’m sending them straight to a folder called “Reading List”, where they will stay until I take the time to read and further archive them. Once read, they are moved into another folder under the “Education” label, or in the subfolder underneath “Reading List” called “Read✅”. Here I don’t mind gathering mailings of diverse topics. Only once mailings on one topic start adding up in quantity I will consider adding a new sub-label.

Now you have a general idea of how I “zero my inbox”.

In part #2 “Organise your Gmail Inbox for Increased Productivity (and Fun)” we will go through the settings I changed to save time, especially the filtering of emails with exact how-to’s, and make the inbox look nicer with minimal adjustments.

Thank you for reading this piece!

Written by

Writing my way to progress. Topics: personal growth, life lessons, tooling & (failed) ventures.

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