Sunday, 16 October 2011

Inbox Zero using Gmail

My email always used to be out of control, and many replies would start with a 'sorry for the delay in getting back to you' line. I found I dreaded opening up Gmail and looking at emails that I'd read, but hadn't worked out what needed doing on them. I tried all sorts of ways to tame my inbox like starring emails, creating tasks, and using an add-on called Taskforce but found nothing really worked until I came across Inbox Zero.  

'Inbox Zero is a thing that was cooked up by Merlin Mann, the cre­ator of 43fold​ers​.com.
It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life.
That “zero?” 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. That’s it'.

If you need to bring some sanity to your email, then I'd really recommend this. There's lots of good ideas offered, but the important part for me is that any email has a limited number of actions possible.
In preferred order, they are:
  1. Delete (or archive)
  2. Delegate
  3. Respond
  4. Defer
  5. Do.
Generally I try to handle an email only once, but some times I won't have the time, energy or interest to deal with them there and then. This is where my labels come in as you can see below:

As this is mainly my personal email account, I don't normally need to delegate, but I immediately label a message and then archive it. As you can see from my screenshot, my Inbox is empty which I absolutely love! At the time of this screenshot, I had some sub-categories of my @ do and @ reading labels to make it easier to spot what's outstanding, but I've now deleted them as those specific messages are dealt with. When I first started using Gmail I went a bit crazy with the labels, but have found the less the better, especially where the search function is so good (unlike Outlook!). As you can see, I also use @ someday/maybe and @ waiting for which I've been using since getting into GTD. I do have other labels, like shiatsu and aikido, but they're more for archiving. I've set most of the labels to only show in the list if there are unread items, and many @ reading emails skip the inbox and show up as an unread count instead.

At the moment I have a fair number of emails to work through which is just down to sheer laziness. I've realised recently that I'm not as good as I thought at completely relaxing, so I'm being lazy on purpose, if that makes sense? I do feel though that getting to zero won't be hard work, which is a real change. If you could peek into my filofax, you'd find next actions called 'get @ do to zero' and 'get @ reading to zero'.
I then use use an online timer called Tick Tock to help me focus solely on that task for the given time, after clearing away any distractions and making a lovely cup of (normally rooibos) tea. I'll then treat myself to some thing like reading the Philofaxy web finds or playing Phoenix Wright on my DS lite!


  1. I'm also a great believer in inbox zero, I do it with all of my accounts but especially my own personal account. I delete stuff I don't need to keep and archive things I need to keep but have been replied to.

    I use Thunderbird with all my Gmail accounts, I find it works very well with Gmail accounts and I use it on my Mac, Windows and Linux machines so there's never any confusion which ever machine I'm using.

    I can find things in the archive very quickly using the search facility in Thunderbird.

  2. Hi Steve, thanks for your comment.
    It amazes me how how much better I feel when I process every thing to zero! I've never used Thunderbird, but heard good things about it. Looking forward to meeting you in November :)

  3. This is great, I have just finished getting my work email organised (from about 3,000+ unread - mainly due to email malfunction when I moved to an office in a different location, honest...). Reading your post has made me realise that I really should organise my personal email too, especially if I want to try to start following various blogs, and start one of my own.

  4. I passed on the link to this post to my followers on Twitter, they all said it was a good read and went off to hopefully follow our example!

  5. Found this on the net:

  6. @ LJ: Great, glad you found it helpful & thanks for stopping by :)

    @ Steve: thanks for sharing my post & I found the article really interesting too :)