There are over 200 million search results for questions like “How to get to inbox zero.”
That means thousands of blog posts, books and courses on email management systems have already been written covering a wide range of topics including;
- Strategies for attaining inbox zero with specific email service providers (Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail, etc.)
- Comprehensive step-by-step guides on building the “perfect” email organization systems and crafting effective filtering rules
- Curated, ranked buying guides for the best free and paid productivity tools available on the market.
And still, with all these tips, tools, tricks and tutorials at our fingertips, tech-savvy business professionals are struggling to manage their overflowing inboxes on a daily basis.
But, after years of trying, building, failing and abandoning dozens of organization systems, I think I’ve found the answer to building ONE system that lasts.
The best part? It’s a lot easier than you’d think.
It All Comes Down to Building Lasting Habits
People (myself included) tend to start a new email organization system, set it, forget it, and eventually abandon it.
Why? Because we’re all trying to do too much!
✅ We create unrealistic expectations for ourselves, believing that we will somehow be more consistent when it comes to checking our inboxes this time, only to feel discouraged when we return to days worth of unread messages.
✅ We burn ourselves out trying to create intricate email filters, complicated folder structures and to-do lists that perfectly meet our needs.
✅ We forget that the way we work changes over time. Today’s perfect email filtering rules may not be what you need three months or even a year from now.
Understanding these factors won’t magically declutter your inbox, but it’s the first step towards building long-lasting habits that will make your life easier.
My hope is that this simple, human-friendly guide will help provide you with exactly what you need to ensure an entire year (or more) of clutter-free inbox management.
So, let’s get into it.👇
Manage Your Expectations
DON’T expect to fully declutter and organize your inbox all in one day or even a weekend. Instead, break things down into smaller bite-sized tasks.
- Unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read.
- Mass delete promotional emails and junk notifications.
- Create a folder system that’s easy to navigate.
- Batch archive messages by topic. i.e. “receipts, clients or taxes.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for newsletters and promotions. Some are educational, entertaining, swipe-worthy, have tempting offers or just come from brands I admire.
But I’ve had to establish some important rules to keep my newsletter addiction manageable.
❌ If you delete without reading more than five messages from the same company, it’s time to change your notification settings or unsubscribe.
❌ Write down the names of accounts or companies whose services you no longer use and add them to your “to-do” list for later. THEN unsubscribe. Getting rid of old accounts is a whole other activity.
❌ Download assets, freebies or emails with useful stuff and delete the messages. A dedicated space for resources will ensure good content doesn’t languish in an archive folder somewhere.
Keep Your Tags Simple
Building a folder system for things you want to keep is a great way to ensure nothing important gets lost.
But a folder or tagging system that’s too deep or complex may end up making your inbox even more unmanageable than it was before.
So, avoid the hyper specifics and try to keep your archive system two to three folders deep, MAX.
✅ Create Archive Folders with broad but useful titles like “Taxes + Forms,” “Clients > Client or Company Name and ID,” “Receipts for Spend,” or “Payments Received.”
❌ Avoid organizing subfolders by year. It’s a lot easier to search for keywords, time ranges or attachments in a dedicated “Bob Prattleboyse” folder than scouring subfolders dedicated to topics like “Images from Bob” or “Bob 2019 – Family Reunion”.
This way, instead of painstakingly sorting and tagging different kinds of messages from the same person or company, you can mass search “email@example.com” and move all their correspondences into one big, beautiful, dedicated folder and mark all as read.
Build Your Toolkit Slowly
It can be tempting to dive head-first into setting up trackers, tools and layouts based on great articles by smart, techy people.
At first, it’s exciting to have so many great productivity tools at your fingertips.
But if you try to implement too many at once, you’ll be absolutely overwhelmed within two to three months. And it’ll be really hard to tell which extensions and add-ons are doing most of the heavy lifting.
Only Keep the Good Stuff
Whenever you read an email you are only ever going to be doing one of three things;
- Deleting the email because you’re never going read it again.
- Responding to a message, scheduling a reminder to follow up and then archiving it.
- Adding a task to your to-do list like “Send report to David”, “Use Promo Code for Popflex by [date]” and then deleting or archiving the message.
Make Time to Review Your System
Over time, interests and hobbies tend to evolve.
Even if you set up automatic email filters, change your settings so trash and spam are deleted after a certain amount of time and feel pretty confident, make time to review your system.
Let me give you some examples;
❌ Perhaps you don’t need to save old appointment reminders because you recently set yourself up on a centralized platform like MyAHS Connect, where you can access all your medical information in one place.
❌ If you’ve been out of touch with someone for an extended period of time or recently had a falling out, this could be an opportunity to delete old messages and decide whether or not you’d like to save their contact info.
❌ Similarly, if you’ve been out of high school or college for a while, tuition reminders, messages from old instructors, or exam room booking confirmations may no longer serve any purpose.
Things change. There are a lot of little milestones, career changes or new hobbies that can replace the need for whole batches of archived messages.
Which in turn frees up space for what’s most important in your life right now.