How I Keep My Inbox Empty

When’s the last time you went to bed with an empty inbox?

For me, it was last Thursday night … Sort of.

I still can’t really believe it, but it may be possible I’ve come up with a solution for managing my inbox that may allow me to go to sleep each night with an empty inbox.

Notice all the qualifiers here – may be possible, may allow me. Well, they are there because in all truth, the moment I clear the inbox, before I can shut the computer another email flies in. But, its close enough to empty that I’m going to brag about it.

Before I share my strategy, some background:

I get about 570 new email messages per day and the last time I had an empty inbox was when I gave up on my Outlook with 425 emails flagged for followup and moved to gmail basically just dumping whatever was in the Outlook.

Over the past several months, my threshold for unresponded to email has slowly risen. It used to be that I would accept 50 unresponded to emails in my inbox. Then, it was 100. Over the past few months, it’s been 250.

250 emails taunting me, overwhelming me, leaving me feeling as if I would never be able to close down my computer and be done for the day.

My email addiction has become out of control. I admit I am powerless over email. I blame it on the 250 unanswered emails staring at me each time I try to close my gmail.

I am finally ready to do something about it. I twittered for help and @victormedina replies as do several others with the same answer. Inbox Zero. I’m intrigued. Others say to combine Inbox Zero with Getting Things Done. Have you ever picked up Getting Things Done? It would take me 3 years to comb through it. I needed a quicker fix. I scanned the Inbox Zero emails and set out to figure out something that would work for me.

Ok, here’s the plan.

Using gmail, I labeled and archived the 250 messages in my inbox.

Now, I’ve done this in the past, but due to my inability to properly categorize from one email session to the next, I ended up with 72 different labels and never followed up on any. Not useful.

This time, I created only 4 labels:

* Assigned
* To Do
* To Review
* To Respond

[Note: Since originally writing this, I added two more labels: * To Blog and * Next Team Call]

Okay, confession time … there were about 175 emails that I thought I labeled “To Review” and “To Do”, that actually got archived without a label. That means, they were effectively deleted because they are now all mixed in with the 32,562 messages in the all mail folder. Well, that’s one way to clear the inbox. Oops. If you are waiting on me for something, please re-send.

Now, as soon as I open my inbox my intention is to immediately go through and label and archive all the items in my inbox in one of the folders.

Then, if I still have time I can actually start to do, review, respond or assign.  Only problem … I may never get the time to actually do, review, respond, blog or assign because the labeling and archiving takes so long.

But, the good news?  I have achieved Inbox Zero and I feel free.


  1. consultgalSunday, June 8, 2008 at 2:23 am 

    I do this.

  2. LA Blogger GalTuesday, June 10, 2008 at 11:48 pm 

    I do something similar to this with my emails as well. I have to say, my “follow up” folder saved me when I was on vacation this past week. It allowed me to read something, yet still hold it someplace for my response once I got home.

    I’ve also started using Remember the Milk as a “to do” list of sorts so I can still tick off or save something out in the open (or it tends to get lost in all the other emails).

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