How To Inbox Zero

Managing emails is yet another process that clogs our day to day. Back before the advent of emails, it was letters that clogged our world. Now, emails are the virtual clutter in our life.

We generate a staggering number of emails and receive even more on a daily basis and they all have to end up somewhere. It is no wonder that being overwhelmed by emails is a common occurrence but it doesn’t have to be that way.

How to Inbox Zero

Unfortunately I’m going to have to remind you of the nagging that your mother or father might have had in store for you when you were younger. If you tidy up your toys each day you won’t have such a mess.

How do we get out of control in the first place?

It is a matter of lack of discipline, lack of motivation and not controlling what comes in through the front door.

  1. Control
  2. Discipline
  3. Motivation

You are the boss!

Unless you have money to spend on employing someone to manage your inbox you are going to have to get a grip of this yourself.

Every action requires you to be in the driving seat so you are going to have to roll up your sleeves.

What are the drawbacks of a bloated inbox?

  • Simple actions take longer
  • It is difficult to differentiate what is important amongst the competing demand
  • You are far more likely to get lost in your emails rather than being pinpoint accurate with your time spent
  • You start to run close to your inbox size limit which may prevent new emails filtering through

Bloated inboxes need continuous scrolling up and down to find what you are looking for and may force you to use the search function more frequently.


What Mindset Do You Need To Get Clear?

You need to cast aside some of your sentimentality when cleaning out your inbox. A bad inbox displays signs that you are a hoarder. Sentimentality combined with de-motivation and a lazy bone or two may be what has led to this problem.

A pro-active approach is needed.

You need to assign an hour per day to this task. Can’t do an hour? Try 30 minutes. You won’t get enough done in 10.

Determining Which Kind of Strategy To Start With

There are two types of email inbox user. Low and High volume receivers form the two groups.


High Volume Receivers

A high volume receiver is receiving between 100+ emails a day. You’ve got a serious problem so it benefits you to go through the whole shrinking process from Phase 1: Step 1.

Low Volume Receivers

You can get started on deleting the bulk of email straight away so skip to Phase 1: Step 3 unless you think you can benefit from shrinking your intake down.

Important Exceptions to Mention Before Starting:

During legal proceedings it is best to retain all emails regardless of how little importance you may associate with them. However, I would strongly recommend saving them by printing them to .pdf and where necessary, print to hard copy. They will require their own folder. With legal documentation, don’t delete if you are unsure as it may be difficult to recover later.

Deletion is not always final

Often there might be a ‘deleted’ folder. This will give you a second chance to rescue something before it is deleted forever.

If your inbox size is at its maximum, you may need to ensure that all emails in the deleted folder are permanently deleted before your overall mailbox size is restored and you can start using your account properly.

It is good practice to clean out your deleted emails on a regular basis. In some cases, deleted files will be cleaned off by the system every 30 days. Some systems do this sooner.


Phase 1: Purge

The Purge Phase involves you taking a two-pronged attack to your email. You start with what is coming in then end by what you’ve already received.

Why start with what is coming in?

If you don’t start with what is coming in you will soon be overwhelmed by a wealth of emails you don’t need. You won’t have solved the frequency problem. The deletion stage will be longer lasting because you have already destroyed the source of the nuisance.


Step 1: Sort by Sender

The most effective way to start stripping back your emails is to sort your emails by sender.


Step 2: Eliminate

Don’t delete all of the emails before unsubscribing if you are on a mail subscription. You need to unsubscribe first then delete.

Eliminate the senders that you don’t want to receive content from anymore. Select all of their emails and delete them.

Mark spam as spam. Rather than a simple delete some of the email clients give you a chance to identify spam. Normally spam originates from dodgy named email origins and uses unusual subject lines.

If possible, block those individuals that you continuously delete from, one by one.


Step 3: Sort by Date (oldest first)

Important note: some of your mail may still be important so don’t delete unless you are sure.

Create a folder or have a folder free to transfer emails to. This will vary depending on your provider.

Work from the oldest to the newest, deleting non relevant emails. Transfer relevant emails to the other folder. You can “star” or flag important emails.

Whilst in this process, if you have important documents, consider whether they are more appropriately kept as a hard copy. Some bank letters are better kept offline as a hard copy but even these lose their importance after 6 years.

Those items with attachments that are useful can be downloaded. When you are satisfied that the document has been handled correctly you can delete.


Step 4: Repeat this Process

Repeat the whole process in 4 weeks’ time as emails mount up again. There may be some emails that aren’t caught on your first sweep with regards subscription or blocking.


Phase 2: Organise

Create a number of folders to store the emails from recipients you know you will be keeping in future.

Tips for users with POP mail accounts on a local client:

If using a POP mail account (One that provides a local storage of emails such as Outlook), you can set up some “rules” for your emails.

Suggested rules:

  • Move to folder
  • Move to folder and provide an alert
  • Send to Deleted items**

**Try to avoid receiving these in the first place.

Outlook looks like so:-

Rules can be found along the top of the menu. Microsoft have made this screen a bit muddled.

Rules can be found along the top of the menu. Microsoft have made this screen a bit muddled.


Following the wizard is the easiest path to success.

Following the wizard is the easiest path to success.


Phase 3: Manage

Every day, check your mail and action changes.

  • Unsubscribe if you don’t need the emails you are receiving. If you find yourself deleting immediately on a regular basis, unsubscribe.
  • Mark spam as spam to train the spam filter.
  • Delete those emails that are not important. Everything is not important after 6 months unless it is a bill you have to keep and then you should consider saving it as a hard copy.
  • Place important emails in folders after responding or taking action on them.
  • Decommission important emails after their time has passed by printing to .pdf

If your email starts getting out of control again, start from Phase 1. Rinse and repeat.


In Closing

You should find a great deal of relief in having an empty inbox on a regular basis. It is good to know that everything is sorted. You will find that your efficiency will increase and you will know where everything important is.

If you’ve found this guide useful, feel free to share.

If you have any improvements to this process or any other considerations you’d like to share, let me know.

For Bloggers

I use FastMail as my email client, its fast, functional and easy to set up. Currently the Affiliate link is down therefore I won’t display any warnings here but I would still recommend the service.

I also wrote this article of my first thoughts, more food for thought.

Rules can be setup to manage your emails as per below:-

Found in "Settings" under "Rules"

Found in “Settings” under “Rules”

The resulting rule can be edited if it doesn't perform as expected.

The resulting rule can be edited if it doesn’t perform as expected.

More Useful Links on the Subject


Image Credits

Featured image by Andi_Munich via Pixabay

2 Comments How To Inbox Zero

  1. Ahmad Imran

    Jackson, an important topic and helpful productivity tip you have covered in this article. I have noticed that as my blogging activities have increased, so as my email and correspondence. I had a non-negotiable need for my every single email to be archived in case if I need it for future reference. So GMail has an easy button for “archive” and it not only stores my email but also helps me achieve “inbox Zero”.

    It is worth mentioning that to achieve the Inbox Zero in real terms means that all emails are actually actioned as well to appropriate level of detail and quality. This can be tricky to achieve. Hence a separate school of thought is that as long as you have filed or stored your emails in a place where you can find it when you need it (Away from from your inbox), this will also be called as Inbox Zero.

    Solid advice for bloggers and busy emailers. Cheers.

    1. Jackson Noel Davies

      Hi Ahmad!

      Obviously the Inbox Zero state of being is not entirely achievable. There is no point in having an inbox if you don’t receive any messages. However, keeping it lean helps a lot.

      I think you are spot on with action. If you don’t action your email then it needs to remain until you do. If you don’t plan to action that email it needs to go. Being over sentimental with stuff you will never need again is a recipe for disaster.

      With regards to archiving I can see the usefulness in it but even your archive can become irrelevant after a couple of years so it is worth keeping a check on what you are actually storing.

      Storing to keep your inbox clean is the way to go but you should review those folders you move items to on a regular basis. Everything has a shelf life.

      As a side note, the weather is so good at the moment it has been hard to get myself in front of a computer recently (other than at work).

      One thing I didn’t mention in this article was mass clear outs. Some individuals have huge purges from time to time but if you keep on top of your email as you go along there is never any need for big purges.

      Best wishes and thanks for your response as always,



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