How to Achieve the Elusive Goal of “Inbox Zero”

It’s the ever-elusive goal… “inbox zero”… that brief dream moment of peace…

Whatever happened to the excitement we used to feel at the AOL voice’s interruption of “You’ve got mail”?

Well, we went from a few emails a day from people who we were excited to hear from…

To thousands of emails a day, dominated by spam and marketing… how the heck can we manage it?

Here are five tips to help you shift how you handle your email so YOU’RE the one in control again – and you get your productivity groove back!

1. Change the way you view your inbox.

Don’t look at your inbox as a “to do” list.  It’ll keep you feeling overwhelmed and never caught up if you do.

2. Set specific “email” times.

Choose the times of day you’ll focus on email and stick to them.

Don’t let it become an all day, every day monster lurking just around the corner and popping up at random.

3. Use filters and archive ruthlessly.

When you process email, at your chosen daily times, ask yourself these filter questions:

  • Do I need to take action?
  • Can I file/archive it?
  • Should I delete it?


If it’s actionable, save it (see step 4).

If you might want to read it later, archive it.  And archive ruthlessly – don’t feel pressured into reading every marketing email or newsletter that pops into your inbox!

If it’s spam, delete it.

4. Setup folders and use a system.

Do not leave endless lists of actionable emails in your inbox.  Instead, use a system of folders to file them:

  • Action – these are the ones that require a response from you
  • Review – emails you know you want to review but are less urgent and not direct action required
  • Awaiting Reply – file items here that you’ve responded to and are awaiting a reply
  • Archive – completed emails get archived for later reference

Tip: Use Boomerang for GMail to make all of the above easier!  It allows you to schedule emails and to bounce them back into your inbox at a later date.

5. Have fun with it!

See it as a challenge, instead of an uncontrollable monster.

Try the Inbox Zero Email Game at (it’s free)

Your turn!  What’s your best tip for managing the endless flow of emails?

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  1. Just tried the email game. That’s a really fun way to get through my email! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. My best tip is filters. I’ve created filters that go into labels for specific projects, and one for clients. So those emails don’t get mixed up in my inbox they go straight to where I can find them. That helps tons.

  3. Love these short and easy tips that I can implement within minutes. Just downloaded Boomerang and can’t wait to use the schedule component. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Michelle, you always have fun ways of doing things – the email game – YES.
    I use RightInbox for Gmail which seems to work similar to Boomerang. I can add reminders, notes, send later, and send repeat emails.

    I also use filters and folders. I like to use these three questions:
    Can I take action on this in 2-minutes? if so, I add it to my action file.
    Can I delegate this? if so, I add it to my subcontractor’s files.
    Do I need this? if not, I delete it. (or archive)

    I just to save all emails. I was afraid to hit that delete button. Earlier this year I took a distraction challenge and emptied all old emails. It was stressful but now so satisfying.

    p.s. I had emails in my archives dating back to 2006. ^_^
    Sara recently posted… Goodbye 9-to-5My Profile

  5. Useful post. I use Unroll.Me to tame what appears in my email box daily. It’s an amazing tool because I can look at the not so important emails at my leisure.

  6. Most of what I get is spam so I delete it right away. If it is from an opt-in list and I know I’m not ever going to do anything with it I delete the email and make a note to consider opting out from the list. If it is a reminder and it has already served its purpose then I delete it. If it is a confirmation or a receipt then I archive it in a folder. Anything left should be something that I have to take action on and I leave it in my inbox until it is done. If you move it somewhere else then I’ll never do whatever it was and I might as well delete it.
    Wayne recently posted… Do You Read Self-Help Books or Collect Shelf-Help Books?My Profile

  7. Thanks for these very helpful strategies for managing my e-mail. It arrived just in time! My recurring goal is to keep my e-mails under 100. So far, no success, but I feel much better about the HOW. Thank you!

  8. Thanks a lot for writing such an amazing post as i was really struggling making traffic for my website.
    I am doing most of the things you have told in the post and it is really working since then. It has been a month now and my site is showing improvements now.

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