What is this hype around Inbox Zero, and is it actually beneficial?

Many people have been talking about this concept and there have been multiple strategies to help you de-clutter your email. Depending on the strategy, this may just change the way you interact with your inbox.  It just might change your life too!

The Inbox Zero term was developed by the productivity guru Merlin Mann. The whole purpose of this concept was to stop wasting thoughts repeatedly on the same items throughout the day.

We have researched and reviewed multiple strategies, and compiled them into the ultimate framework to achieve Inbox Zero for Gmail in as few steps as possible, and without the need for any special tools.


Before You Begin

While this guide is focused on Gmail in particular, the concepts outlined here can be applied to most email clients/services.  If you’d like some assistance with a non-Gmail Account, please reach out or connect with us on Social Media. We’re happy to help!

This article will detail out the individual steps below, and you can follow along with our video guide here:


Getting your Inbox to Zero is not as hard as you might think.  Keeping it there is the challenging part, but with a few small automation tricks, your inbox can go to work for you and filter out the unimportant.  Here’s an overview of the steps:


Step #1 – Archive Everything

To begin our journey to Inbox Zero, we will start things off with a clean slate by Archiving everything.  This will give us a fresh start and allow us to tackle our emails one at a time as they trickle into the inbox.  In Gmail, archiving is a means of removing something from your inbox, while still retaining it for access later.  Archiving is not the same as deleting, as items that are ‘deleted’ will be permanently removed after 30 days.  Anything archived however, will remain in your email account forever.

Once signed into your Gmail account, navigate to your inbox and select the checkbox in the upper left corner to ‘Select All.’  Depending on how many messages you have, you will likely see an option to click on to ‘Select all ##### conversations’ (which some big number).  Choose this option to select everything.  Then, simply click the ‘Archive’ Button and wait for Gmail to process your request.

You may have to repeat this a few times depending on your number of emails, as Gmail seems to miss some in the first pass.

When you see no further emails in the list, be sure to navigate to your other tabs at the top such as Promotions or Social, and repeat the Steps above to clean out those categories.  If you’ve made it this far, then congratulations!  You’ve achieved Inbox Zero… but we’re not quite done yet.  The next steps will show you how to maintain your shiny, anxiety-free Inbox Zero.


Step #2 – Designate a Place for “Urgent” Items

Any email that arrives in our inbox has the potential to be ‘urgent’ and require us to take action.  These emails need to be easily accessible and visible, until we deem the task completed.  The goal in this step is to create one designated place for those urgent items to live, so as to not clutter the inbox.  The easiest way to achieve this is to set up a “tag” in Gmail.

To do this, scroll to the bottom of the pane on the left in the Gmail window.  You should see an option to add a new Tag.  A popup box will prompt you to give it a name.  We like to use the name “Urgent” to keep things simple, but you can name it anything.  That’s all there is to it!  Now we have a place where we can move any emails that we deem “Urgent” to keep them out of the inbox.  In the next section, we will show you how you can have messages automatically arrive in your “Urgent” tag.


Step #3 – Add Filters to Automatically Route Emails Out of Your Inbox

It’s only a matter of time before new emails start showing up in your inbox, now that it’s nice and clean.  As new emails arrive, you will want to assess if there is an opportunity to make similar emails in the future automatically leave your inbox.  In this section, we will explain how to filter emails out of the inbox automatically.  Before we add any filters, take a look at the following chart to get an idea of how to determine what filters to Apply:

chart for filtering emails


While you don’t have to follow this methodology, we have found it to be the most simple and effective.  With any item that arrives in your inbox, you need to determine if it is Urgent or not, and Important or not, and then follow the chart above to see what filters to apply (for emails you never want to see again, check out Step #4 of this guide).  For example: something that is Important, but not urgent (meaning no action required) can have a Star added to it, and get Archived automatically.  In my case, my Bank Statement emails are important to me (I want to keep them and find them easily later, hence the Star) but do not require me to take any action, so they are automatically archived in case I need them in the future.

There are many ways to filter an email, but the first thing to determine is the criteria for filtering.  You can filter by things such as the Title of an email, words within the email, if it does or doesn’t have attachments, as well as the sender.  Using these criteria we can selectively route specific emails.  In our video above, we used the example of Twitch.  We decided that any email from Twitch was not important, and not urgent, hence the filter we would add is to archive it right away.  To do this, we opened a message from Twitch and copied the senders address, which was [email protected].  Then, in the bar at the top of Gmail, click the Down arrow to reveal a list of criteria.  We pasted the email address into the “From” field, and then clicked “Create filter.”

inbox filter criteria view

From there, we can see all the filter options where we can determine the new destination for the emails going forward.  In this case, we are simply archiving to skip the inbox.

As new emails continue to flow into your inbox, continue to apply this method and you will massively reduce the flow of things into your inbox.  Our next and final step is also geared at reducing the flow of messages into the inbox.


Step #4 – Unsubscribe From The Garbage

By this point if you’ve followed all of the above steps, you should find that only emails you don’t care much about are standing between you and Inbox Zero.  If an item isn’t worth keeping at all, then the best thing to do is to unsubscribe, and never get that message again.  Gmail makes this task really simple.  If you find an email you no longer want, you would normally have to scroll to the bottom of the message, and hunt through a wall of tiny text to find a link that will allow you to unsubscribe.  Gmail will do it’s best to put it’s own link for you at the top of the email to save you time.

Once you click on the Unsubscribe link, you will be directed to the website of the sender to update your preferences, and never deal with an email from them again.   Repeat this process for any unwanted emails that arrive in your inbox!


Bonus Step #5 – Get Out of Your Inbox

Ok you got us! We know we said there are only 4 Steps in this process, but hear us out on this one.  The final, and possibly most important step for the Ultimate Inbox Zero, is to stop checking your email.

Yes, you read that right. In order to maximize efficiency, we need to stop expending so much time on our inbox.

The more we look at our email, the more distracted we get. Instead of checking your inbox 20 times a day, we can do this once or twice (max!). There is no need to look at every email immediately and we should get out of the mindset that we HAVE to respond right away.

If you schedule a time to read your emails, you can let your friends, clients, and pen-pals (is this still a thing?) know that you will check your inbox at say, 10am and 5pm daily. This will allow you to get laser focused on your emails and you can do them all at once, instead of every 30 minutes.

Also, turn off your email notifications so you won’t have the urge to pick up your phone when you could be enjoying the present moment at hand.  Let your new Inbox Zero Strategy go to work for you!


Final Thoughts

Email technology was designed to help us, but we need to know how to control it for efficiency.  If you stick to our Inbox Zero method and automate the tedious distractions, you will eventually become liberated from all the mundane tasks that come with the technology.

If you would like any help implementing this strategy or any other productivity hacks, please contact us here or connect with us on Social Media!