Inbox Zero: How To Keep A Clean Email Inbox (And Mind)

Florimond Manca on October 11, 2018

This post was originally published at I am a final year student in systems and software engineering at CentraleSupélec. M... [Read Full]
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So .. it has a name, after all these years.. I love Inbox from google because it rewarded and promoted this idea.

Snooze, archive or delete, or leave it if you do it soon, this is how I roll 😎.

For mass email sources that I dont unsubscribe or spam I use skip inbox and archive filter rules, and each folder has the unread count so thats ok.


It's about the workflow, not about the tool ;)

Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of inbox as well, but i recently switched back to gmail to get it 'flowing' before i need to. And it's actually not that bad. There's an archive button as well as the categories. The only thing i'm really missing are the reminders, but i hope they'll integrate that soon.

Definatelly but Inbox was all about this. Gmail and other clients, with an empty inbox still has 30 texts and buttons cluttering your eyes, and it doesnt reward you with a sun background 😁

They also added Snooze in gmail.


I'm doing zero inbox for almost ten years now, and people always envy me for having such a clean inbox.

Googlemail has excellent features for this. I have filters for newsletters, freelancer project emails, for every customer one. They get tagged and archived right away.

There is also a setting to change the "Reply" button to "Reply&Archive".


Interesting — so your emails are automatically archived as soon as they get in your inbox? How do you manage read vs. unread emails?


Gmail displays tags like folders/categories in the sidebar. A mail can be archived but unread and every tag in the sidebar shows how many mails with that tag are unread.

Gmail list all mails, even the archived ones, when I click on a tag in the sidebar. So it's basically like having many sorted inoxes. Only mails from unknown sources land in the "real" inbox.

Almost the same here, but with Outlook @ work and Thunderbird @ home, both of which are happy to apply rules, show me counts in folders and keep my inbox clear for oddities.

I subscribe to a number of mailing lists, these are easy rules to create and I can fit processing into my day when it suits me.

Some things I drop unread into other folders as one-offs, if the situation repeats itself a few times I build a rule. classic JIT :)

One thing I would add - when there is a thread going on, I tend to keep the last email, and nuke the rest, unless someone has actually edited before replying (unusual).


Well I introduced this approach to my work email today and I shared it with colleagues and friends and already found that two of them are using this for years but not aware that their approach was a thing with a name ;)


Such a cool story! I’m pretty sure a lot of people use this approach without knowing someone decided to put a name on it ;) Another sign it’s actually a natural thing to do!


When I said for years I should have said for decades ;)


Would have been nice to also mention filters. I use my yahoo as a subscriptions email, there are some newsletters or periodicals i wouldn't like to miss, so, i setup a filter for them to capture each subscription into its own folder.


Sure, filters can be a nice way to categorize emails, and your « to-read » list example is a very good idea. I suppose you can also apply the principles of Inbox Zero to those individual categories — eg archive/delete newsletters you’ve read?


Hmm, recursion? Hadn't really thought about that. . . <>


Take it a step further, especially if using Gmail. Use the multiple inbox feature and the flags feature to get the actionable email out of the main inbox and bucketized and easily viewable. The main inbox becomes Zero Inbox still. This was the single greatest setup I've done for managing my email. Setup instructions here:


Thank you for this post! A month into my first job and I was feeling the pains of inbox overload. I was managing it slightly but today I found the archive button! Excited to use these other tips and tricks!


Great stuff! I’m glad you find these tips useful.


I'm a huge proponent of 'not using the inbox as a to-do list'. I need to get the mails out of the inbox.

Also I batch process a lot, don't wait for them to come in and answer straight away but move through them at specific times throughout the day.


I'm going to give this a try and see how it goes. I like to have my inbox rid of any emails I don't need and make sure all email is read but I never actually archived. I always saw the archive button as a black hole where it would be forgotten about. I like the concept of inbox zero. I like to go for the clean approach.


Nice to hear!
So did you just delete all emails once they've been dealt with? If an email important, you can instead put it in the archives. This way, you can easily retrieve it for future reference. :-) (Provided the email has certain obvious keywords.)
At least, that's my main mental image about the archive button.


Am I the only one that doesn't really care about what's in my inbox. Never have, and it doesn't bother me at all. I have better things to do, in all honesty.


Also, I am getting nearly 200 emails daily and what really matters is search speed.
Archive and even folders make it slower. So yeah, unreads are treated as kinda to do, reads as void.
No labels, no favs, no nothing. Search rules.


That's a fair point, honestly. It might just be that I am a control freak. 😙

Seriously, I think it boils down to personal preference. I have a lot of emails, notifications and requests of all sorts all the time. Keeping a clean inbox helps me keep track of what's done, what's being done and what's left to do, so that's why having a zero email inbox goal suits me.

The student friends I'm mentioning in the post were actually having issues with the high volume of email, and they told me switching to Inbox Zero (or a variant or however we want to call it) has helped them.

The point is — while the workflow suits you, I suppose there's no need to overthink it. 😄


Yeah I guess whatever works to keep your head in the game. Mine is just ignoring the numbers 😀


I use Spark email. The product really pushes for Inbox Zero, even though I've never achieved it yet. The key features are snoozing, delayed send, archiving and use their integrations heavily. I share emails to my Trello board for todo, Bear for more mindshare and more thoughts in my responses.


Nice! This is extremely interesting to me. I'm a heavy Trello user, from personal todo lists to personal and team projects, so the ability to integrate it in a mail client is appealing. I'll definitely take a look at Spark!


I have been planning to do "Zero" inbox but hesitating for a long time. I do read every email and making it a habit of having "Zero" unread mails. Just now archived all the mails, fingers crossed :D.

I know I'm not losing any mails, but I guess it feels bit uneasy since I have done it for the first time. I do have few rules setup to sort the new emails, and plan to add rules as new emails come in.

One question though is, Can we apply similar rules on the archived mails as well? Applying rules on archived emails to put them into separate folders.


It can feel uneasy in the beginning.

However, I never felt the need to categorise emails that went to the archive. When I need to find an old email, a keyword search is generally enough.

I also feel like having to put emails into separate folders adds more management burden; and the point of Inbox Zero (at least the way I practice it) is also to reduce the amount of work required to manage your inbox.

But as always, the extra steps in your workflow (e.g. adding automated classification rules) are up to you and whatever suits you best. :-)

I'm glad you made the leap to Inbox Zero, though! Hope it helps.


Came from the newsletter.

Isn't archiving just putting the trash/clutter somewhere else from in front your eyes? I never grasped the theory of archiving, in fact I never used it. Hell, I don't even know how it works. But if it works like that, then I don't want to use it.

Either you keep an email because it's (kinda) important, or you don't. That is:

  • you keep it until you deal with it (Thunderbird has colored labels, I started to use those recently), and then delete it.
  • you keep it for future reference, that is why you use named folders to put those into
  • it has memories you don't want to forget, so you keep it.

My inbox has 1304 emails, starting from 2002-06-06. My trash has a retention policy of 60 days. If the deleted email is from before, chances are I won't need that email ever again. Again, I never used the 'Archive' button.


Hi! Interesting point, which allows me to clarify something — the archives are not just another trash.

As I wrote in the post, if an email is not important, you should delete it. If it has any importance, you should archive it once dealt with.

The key ideas is to use the archive as a place to keep email that's been dealt with but you may need to refer to in the future. Not keeping it in the inbox allows you to use the latter in a "todo list" fashion — which is a workflow I personally enjoy very much.

I suppose labels/folders/categories is an extra way of classifying important email — and you're absolutely right to use them if they help you making the act of finding older important email easier. :-)


I heard a lot about inbox zero over the years and after switching the company I took the first step and eliminated folders and started using tags.
But it was never necessarry enough for me to try the real inbox zero and I never used the archive folder! (don't know what held me back).

Thanks to your post, I started on my private mail account, took 4 hours to decide which mails are worth archiving and set up some filter rules.

Great feeling!


I happen to work at a company which try to solve the pain of email overload! 😊
Check out our last article:


I'm going to try this right now and give my input :-)


So I've been at this since I last commented and I'm pretty amazed at how much more I can get out of my inbox. It is one of those r/lifeprotips things that I will follow. Thanks :-)

Brilliant 🙌 Really glad about how life-changing that sounds. ;-)


Being doing this since first contact with email back in the yahoo & hotmail era. Now I know it has a name and I'm not crazy or paranoid with my email 🙂 Thanks for sharing


Interesting... I’m currently using Polymail which helps you to reach inbox zero. Very helpful and nice mail app


I too practice Inbox Zero. Bothers me even when there is 1 email unread. Open->Act->Archive. Done.


Back in the days you had Mailbox (

This app was all about zero-inbox and a great feature where you could "Snooze" an email so it would be temporarily removed from your inbox. You could tell at which point in future you wanted this email to reappear in your inbox, like tomorrow, next week, certain date or someday..

Unfortunately this app isn't alive anymore, but other "new" mailclients have implemented this feature in some way..

You could make additional folders in your mailclient to act like this snooze-feature. For example, make a folder for every day of the week. So on a certain day open that folder and handle all the emails in it... Or move them to the next day ;)

I'm still in search for a good alternative for Mailbox which works on osx, ios & android. If someone has a suggestion, please let us know!

Cheers, Nico

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