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A term coined by Merlin Mann, Inbox Zero is a philosophy I've followed for some time. My own obsession began thanks to the iOS app Mailbox that helped you focus and achieve inbox zero.

What is Inbox Zero?

When you log into your Hotmail, Gmail or other email client, it's pretty likely that you have a handful of emails in view, but is that just the tip of the iceberg? Despite folders for organising and the ability to archive emails, we often leave emails in the inbox.

Inbox Zero is the art of keeping your inbox clear. Treat each email as an action and once you're done with it, file it away. Zero emails in your inbox is the goal.

Arm yourself

I know I was more than guilty of having an overflowing inbox, but it all changed when I began using Mailbox because it introduced the ability to snooze your email. It was an important tool that shifted my mindset and put an empty inbox within sight. Snoozing is now a feature available in many email clients and natively with Gmail (after Google folded it's Inbox experiment into Gmail).

It took me a while to get to grips with it because I started with hundreds or thousands of emails in view. A snoozed email would just pop back into your queue and get buried. Taking the plunge, I used the 'select all' option and hit archive. Suddenly, there were no emails in my inbox bringing clarity and zen to my digital communication. Mailbox had a nice feature where they'd feature an Instagram photo every day and it was something I tweeted many times about Mailbox' ultimate demise at the hands of Dropbox and mentioned it in at least a couple of times in notable commentary. It was one of those apps and experiences that really made an impression and while it never took the problem of postponing an action or removing procrastination, it certainly kept the important things at the forefront. Prioritising emails became much easier as did keeping on top of things that could easily be forgotten. Or another way to look at it: I could forget about an action until it was important or relevant enough to do something about it.

Now I can barely remember the days when my unread emails would go out of view on page two of my inbox before they were lost forever. I always felt I was good at keeping on top of it all, but it turns out I was terrible.

It's also fair to say that for the majority of us, Inbox Zero was an unachievable dream. We can't all just act on everything immediately.

Believe it, achieve it!

So how do you really achieve Inbox Zero? Let's start with the easy option that works with any email client and service. When you're done, hit 'Archive'. If you're inbox is full, select everything and put it in the archive folder. Everything. Read or unread. I'll wait.

If there was something important, go find it and put it back into you inbox. Now all you have to do is work on those items and archive them as you complete them.

The slightly more complicated version will help you achieve Inbox Zero sooner and is the most flexible. Sadly, it's requires a service and/or client that supports the feature. As I mentioned, Gmail supports it natively but apps like Airmail, Postbox and Spark offer the functionality. Once you're good to go, this is what you need to know:

  • Archive, archive, archive
  • If it can't be archived, snooze it
    • Amazon delivery? Snooze until the latest day it may be delivered
    • Flight details? Snooze until the day before
    • Need to sort something tonight? Snooze until the evening
    • Can't action it once the email has returned? Snooze again until you can
  • If it's junk...
    • Unsubscribe from it
    • Delete it
    • Mark it as spam

If you haven't already, give Inbox Zero a try. Your mailbox will thank you and so will your sanity.

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