First of all, this is how I do things and it works for me, it may or may not work for you. Let’s get to it!

Back in 2006/2007 my cousin shows me around on his computer and I notices how clean his inbox is, and he shows me this neat thing called labels/folder in Gmail. He told me that he archives e-mails he’s done with and try to keep the inbox as empty as possible.

Fast-forward to today and here I am, still practising what he showed me 16-17 years ago. Here’s how to get started.

Inbox zero (sort of)#

Inbox zero is about keeping your inbox empty or at least as close to empty as possible.

My method is similar, but I don’t necessarily need to keep it totally empty.

Whenever I receive an email I either:

  1. Delete the e-mail,
  2. Put it in a folder,
  3. Keep it in my inbox for later

And I always mark my e-mails as read as soon as I can. I use my inbox as a “reminder”.

When to delete#

You might ask:

When do I delete e-mail?

Whenever you can! Some examples of what you don’t need in your inbox and/or e-mail is:

  • Password resets
  • Welcome/sign up/thank you e-mails
  • Login alerts (ofc. keep them if they are suspicious)
  • Newsletters that you’ve read

Do you keep deleting newsletters, promotions etc.? Try to unsubscribe from them, then you don’t waste valuable time on them.

Using folders/labels#

With today’s e-mail services you have great search, and it’s fast. But sometimes you can’t remember what to search for, but you can remember its “category”. This is where folders/labels come in.

The difference between labels and folders are that labels are a way of marking an e-mail with a label and also having the ability to archive the e-mail within said label. A folder is simply just a folder. I use folders.

How you manage your folders is very personal, whenever someone asks me what I recommend starting of I usually say:

  • Work-related stuff
    • Create sub-folders if you have multiple employments
  • Finance, banking etc.
    • Subfolders with order confirmations, receipts and invoices
  • Family

Then, whenever I get for example an invoice, I keep it in my inbox until I’ve paid it and then archive it to my invoices folder. But what if I get an e-mail for something I don’t have a folder for? Then I simply archive it within a folder (that I think all services have) called archive. There can be times when it’s actually useful to create a new temporary folder, but then you need to remember to tidy it up later. I usually do this for trips where there are a lot of e-mails related to that specific trip.

To summaries using folders, when you get an e-mail react to it as soon as possible and try to archive it to a folder.

How to start#

⚠️ Do not try to clean up your e-mail in one go, it will be painful and it takes time.

Keep a mindset about doing it over time. Create the new folders and try to establish the routines mentioned earlier.

And if you want to get a head-start and get tidying you can start by searching for:

  • Password resets
  • Login alerts
  • Unsubscribe
  • Welcome / sign up / thank you

And then delete them as you see fit!