How to Zerofy Your Email Inbox in Five Steps

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” ~ Carl Bard

How many messages do you have in your email inbox right now?

If you have more than 100, that’s not too bad.
If you have more than 1000, you have a problem.
If you have more than 10,000, you are in serious trouble!

In reality, it doesn’t matter if there are fewer than 100 emails nestling in your inbox. If they are on your mind, like the hidden roaches in your kitchen, you have a problem. It’s like Merlin Mann says, “It’s not how many messages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be.”

Confession: I have precisely 3437 messages in my inbox. And I’m sick of them. It’s little consolation that I’m not the only one suffering from email excess. If you search for “Inbox zero,” Google will display more than 47 million results in a fraction of a second. Obviously, email overload is a leading cause of stress and strain in our lives.

However, after a few hours of online research, I’ve devised a quick-start strategy to deal with email overflow. Watch over my shoulder as I zerofy my inbox.

Step One:

Create a new folder (“label” in Gmail) in your email program and call it “Archive.”

Step Two:

Move all the messages in your inbox to this new “Archive” folder.

(Quick tip: if there are thousands of emails in your inbox, click on the topmost message and then press the “Shift,” “Ctrl” and “End” keys together (Shift+Ctrl+End). All the messages in your inbox will be selected. Then drag them to the new folder.)

Congratulations. You have successfully zerofied your inbox. What you are staring at is an empty inbox and what you are feeling is either a sense of exhilaration or emptiness or both.

(Yes, I know. You are feeling duped. The emails are out of your inbox but not of your life. Out of sight but not of mind. Bear with me. This is a good start. Because, in the words of Merlin Mann, “How much stuff in your life has gotten unmanageable simply because you decided at some point that you were too behind to ever make a difference?”)

Meanwhile, from now on, don’t allow your newly zerofied inbox to get stuffed with more than ten messages.

Step Three:

Create another new folder and call it “Action” or “Current.”

Step Four:

It’s easier to zerofy your inbox than to keep it empty. However, you can use a secret weapon called the 4D strategy to zap each message in your inbox:

  1. Delete / Archive: If you don’t want to delete any message, move it to the “Archive” folder. Don’t allow it to loiter in the inbox.
  2. Delegate / Forward: Then delete or archive.
  3. Do / Respond: Especially if the action is likely to take less than two minutes. Then delete or archive.”
  4. Defer / Plan: If the follow up action is likely to take more than a few minutes or is related to your ongoing projects, shift the message to the “Action” folder. (Or add it to your to-do list.)

Apply this 4D strategy to messages in your inbox and “Action” Folder regularly.

Step Five: (Optional)

Give yourself about 30 to 60 minutes to rapidly check the messages in the “Archive” folder, especially the ones received in the past two months, to make sure you don’t miss anything crucial.

All email programs can search and locate any email message in the archive so you need not bother creating folders according to topic or sender.

As writers and bloggers, we need to deal effectively with email overload and prevent it from becoming a mental and emotional black hole that drains our productivity, creativity and sanity.

What tactics and strategies do you use to deal with email?

Let us know in the comments below.

Free Resources:

Inbox Zero: The single best resource – Everything you will ever want to know about email productivity.
Original Inbox Zero Video: Live presentation on Inbox Zero at a Google Tech Talk in Mountain View, CA on July 23, 2007
How I Finally Tamed My Email to “Inbox 5” Great tips by Cate Huston

(26 February 2014)


Rohi Shetty is a freelance writer who riffs about the importance of humor, mindful mojo, and creative entrepreneurship at http://rohishetty.com. He is also a star student of Danny Iny’s Audience Business Masterclass. You can connect with him on Twitter at @rohishetty.

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3 thoughts on “How to Zerofy Your Email Inbox in Five Steps

  1. Hi Aneeta,

    I think she can use the same system:

    1. Transfer all emails in her inbox to a new folder called “Archive.” Instant Inbox Zero! 🙂

    2. Process all new emails – do, delegate, defer, delete / archive – and don’t allow more than ten emails in her inbox at the end of the day / week.

    3. Consider processing emails of the past two months and let go of the older emails – out of sight, out of mind.

    4. Reduce number of incoming email –> unsubscribe, reply slower and shorter and/or ignore unimportant emails.

    I hope this helps.

  2. Rohi,

    I know someone who has precisely 18,342 emails. What do you say to that???

    Aneeta

    • My God – 18,000+ messages? That’s like a few drums full of small stuff you may need to search through, when you need anything. Or, more like a big ‘kachchar koondi’. LOL.

      Like Rohi, I too had about 4,000 messages a few months ago which I moved to a new folder called Old_Inbox. I have a separate Archive folder and archive any messages I may need for later, flagging them if they are important. (I don’t use Gmai as my main e-mail).

      I don’t have 10 e-mails but surely less than 50 in my Inbox. I’m not decided on many of these yet. Mostly, I delete or move or reply any e-mails received. Just need to create a delegate/defer folder. Rest I’ve been doing automatically, without a thought.

      My GMail Inbox, which I check like once a week, surely has a ton of e-mail. I’m subscribed to a few Google groups and get a lot of messages from them. I want to move most of these to another e-mail server or to my computer because they contain important messages and PDF attachments I need. But, I’ve never been successful downloading GMail e-mails using Outlook or other e-mail clients – GMail breaks the connectionwhen downloading a lot of messages.

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