Before last May, my inbox had thousands of messages in it. At this very moment, I have inbox 0 — no unread messages.
Achieving and maintaining inbox 0 for the past eight months is a source of pride. I’m not an organised person, as my parents or any former roommate can attest. So for me, it’s a particularly awesome accomplishment.
I didn’t achieve this great feat with a fancy mailbox-managing app. I don’t even have the Gmail app on my phone. Here’s how I miraculously managed my inbox 0.
Pick A Day To Start Fresh
I remember the first day I achieved Inbox 0. It was Monday May 12, a slow-news spring day, and I had time to kill between stories. I seized the opportunity and spent the entire day tackling my inbox, pausing only for breaking news.
I had about 4,000 emails then; some had been sitting there for months waiting for me to take action. I began with the oldest emails, highlighting the entire page (Gmail shows 50 line items page), then unchecked only truly important, still relevant messages. All the remaining highlighted emails were deleted.
I continued this process for 80-some pages. By the time I was done a had a more manageable number of messages, a few hundred, to deal with. I replied, starred, archived and deleted the remaining messages as necessary until at last, inbox 0 was achieved. It took hours.
You may find it easiest to simply mass delete every message in your inbox at once, without scanning every email like I did. It takes less time, and once you pull the trigger, there’s no turning back. The relief you’ll feel fom inbox 0 may outweigh the guilt you’ll feel deleting thousands of messages without reading them. I couldn’t do that.
Either way, maintaining inbox 0 requires you to actually get to inbox zero in the first place. So pick a day to finally deal with all the emails you’ve been putting off, and just get it done.
Spot Types Of Emails That Pile Up And Purge Them
If you’re like me, you probably get a lot of junk emails. Some can be minimized by unsubscribing from lists, which I now do more than ever.
Scheduling meetings also results in long email chains. I now archive or delete every chain once I’ve replied and am expecting a response. I figure I’ve done my part to pick a date, and the email will resurface again when the other party replies. In the meantime, the chain won’t be clogging up my inbox.
Delete As If You Have No Heart
My inbox was also full of story pitches from people I don’t know, asking me to write about things that aren’t a good fit for my beat or Business Insider. Those can be deleted in bulk, or dealt with in a sentence or two response.
What about when you’re on vacation or travelling and the emails pile up?
I tend to think being out of the office is a freebee for guiltless, mass deleting of messages that aren’t from someone internal or high priority.
If you put up an auto out-of-office reply, then everyone who emails you knows A.) they’re reaching you at a not-ideal time, and B.) when you’re returning. If they really need you, your responder will tell them when you’re back, and they can try again. A lot of my emails are timely news items anyhow, so they’re out of date by the time I return.
My rule of thumb is to delete often, without guilt or remorse, particularly if you don’t know the senders. You’re protecting your sanity and making sure important messages don’t get missed in the clutter.
The Archive And Star Features Are Your Friends
For emails that still need attending to or need to be kept for future reference, there are the glorious star and archive features. While my inbox is 0, I have 119 starred messages that are out of sight but can easily be revisited any time.
Gmail gives you a ton of memory space to work with. Despite my massive amount of archiving, I’ve only used up 38% of my 30 GB. So archive away, you can always keyword search your inbox later to retrieve a message.
Don’t Let More Than 50 Emails Pile Up
Inbox 0 is only maintainable if you keep your emails manageable. When the pileup gets overwhelming, it’s easy to throw up your hands and just let it get worse.
I now never let my emails get more than 1 page (50 emails) long. Checking mail often on my phone helps. This ensures I see everything that comes in. And I still delete like crazy.
Achieving and maintaining inbox 0 requires a certain mindset. You need to be motivated enough to do something about the mess and concerned enough about missing important messages that you keep it organised.
And now I have a dozen new emails to deal with.