Inbox Zero How I Handle Email

My Setup

Philosophy: The Inbox Tray

The central idea to this all is that you treat your email inbox like a real inbox tray: Once something is dealt with, it’s archived. Only the things you are dealing with right now stay in your inbox as a reminder that they are to-dos.

I’ve no clue if this is the original intention behind the naming but once I first heard about it from the fabled Mailbox app (RIP), it just made total sense to do this. Why am I relying on read/unread receipts to determine whether something is still important or not? It’s inefficient and I was regularly forgetting emails and missing out on correspondence. Back when I was freelancing, you can imagine how much of a nightmare this was. I needed something that took away the cognitive load of a mental to-do list and the filtering through all my emails for the unreads.

Benefits (For Me)

I’ve touched on some of the benefits already: Reducing cognitive load. This process saves me the mental load of remembering what I still have yet to do and respond to. It means that when I look at my inbox, it’s either got new emails to be sorted or it’s got old emails that are reminders I need to do something - whether it’s replying or doing something else.

In general, my inbox is a lot less cluttered and a benefit I didn’t consider at the time was that I am more likely to keep my subscriptions clean and unsubscribe from things I’m no longer interested in. With less of a sea of emails, it’s much easier to spot the recurring items I really couldn’t give a shit about. Mostly this happens because I have to sort every new email that comes in, which really encourages you to dislike anything you don’t want to read.

I must admit, I rarely miss an email I have to respond to now. Now, either an email stays in the inbox so that I can respond within the week or I schedule it for later as a reminder (think flights or tickets to an event).

The Process

Emails will come in all the time but I won’t deal with all of them immediately, I’ll normally have a look in the morning and the evening to see if there’s anything I need to respond to - unless I’m particularly waiting for something.

For each email, I choose to do one of 4 things:

  1. Archive it - banish it to the email landfill, never to be seen again (except in searches)
  2. Respond - if I need to, I’ll probably respond immediately
  3. Reschedule it - polymail (and I think gmail now) has a handy feature that lets me resend an email to myself at a later point
  4. Leave it in the inbox - if I don’t wanna respond right away but sometime in the next couple days, or if the event is happening this week, I’ll leave it in my inbox as a reminder whenever I check again

In Conclusion

I don’t think this is very unknown or anything but it’s definitely vastly different to how my peers manage their email. I much prefer this method of handling my emails and I would highly recommend it to everyone. It’s calmer, less stressful and there’s so much less clutter in my digital life.

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