Inbox Zero: Email Management for People That Get Way Too Many Emails

I have zero emails in my main inbox right now. I average about 100 – 200 work emails a day.

Are you jealous? Good.

I am going to tell you the exact process I use to manage email productively.

I live and die by a method called “Inbox Zero” which was not created by me.

What is Inbox Zero?


Inbox zero is a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty — or almost empty — at all times

Now work with me here for this super detailed and complex setup. Are you ready for this? I’m not sure that you are. It involves creating a folder.


Step 1: Create a Folder called Archive. You can nest it under Inbox if you want, but it can also be standalone

Whew, that was tough. Go take a coffee break. I know how hard this is for you. Did you have to google how to create a new folder? No? Great job – You are one step ahead of the game.

Here’s the philosophy:

You have two folders: Main Inbox & Archive. Forget all the subfolders that you created. They are worthless. You created a monster for yourselves. It takes you 10 minutes to find something anyway.

You treat your email like an old school file cabinet system.

When you want to tell someone you got a promotion at work, do you call all of your friends, co-workers and acquaintances on the phone until everyone knows you got the job, or do you just update it on LinkedIn and post it on Facebook?

It’s 2014 – get with the program. Subfolders are so 2004.

Drop the folders, they aren’t helping you at all. It’s only hurting.

If you already have folders, just keep them but going forward you aren’t going to use it. It will take you a while to phase them out, but it will happen if you stick with the system.


Step 2 – Treat every incoming message like a grenade that will explode in 10 seconds if you don’t take action on it.

Action is the key to success.

Every message you receive you have the following options.

  • Reply back to it
  • Ignore it or Read and don’t reply.

After you done one of the above activities you have another decision.

If it’s important or needs to be revisited later

  1. Flag it or “Star it” so you can visit it later.
  2. Archive it (AKA move it to your archive folder).

If it’s not important

  1. Archive it

Do this until you have ZERO emails in your main inbox folder



Step 3 – Checked your flagged items twice a day.

Once in the morning, Once right before I leave.

Your flagged items is your new checklist. This is how I keep track of things across multiple projects. These are items that need to be taken care of. The only time you un flag it is after you’ve completed the task or it is no longer necessary.

I use this to follow up with colleagues that I’m waiting on information for. I never forget about what needs to be done because I have a simple task based system using flagging / starring.


Step 4: It’s 2014 – Use Search

When you want to find tacos around you do you do this?

Taco Directory



<scrolls through taco places in alphabetical order>

Obviously not! You search best tacos chicago. Done. Search in Outlook and Gmail is vastly approved. You should explore it and use it as much as you can.

The best part of using the archive folder is that you aren’t deleting anything! It’s just in another folder. So If you do need to revisit something, you can find it via search. Or you can sort a column if you use outlook.


Step 5 – Stay away from your email.

Leave email at work. Stop checking your phone. Take email off your phone if you have to.

I’ve done it before. It works. You just have to be diligent about it.

PS: Read the only resignation letter template you’ll ever need.