My Inbox Clearing Method

Like many, I’m all about that Inbox Zero life. I’m not going to preach here about it. You’ve heard enough of that elsewhere. I’m going to show you how I get it done.

Winning Before Starting

I like to set myself up for success whenever possible. What that looks like here is severely limiting the amount of inbound email I get. Fewer incoming messages means fewer messages to process.

  • I am ruthless about unsubscribing to unwanted emails. I am only subscribed to seven newsletters, all of which I get value out of regularly. I immediately unsubscribe from sales and marketing emails I get after buying stuff online. If I have to give an email address on a website, I add “+promo” to the end of my address and use a rule to automatically send it to the trash.
  • For important day-to-day questions and messages from coworkers, we use Slack.

These few things cut my email volume by 80%. The remaining 20% is primarily important, valuable, or actionable: Emails from clients, customers, friends, and family, important notifications, and interesting newsletters that I actually read.

Method

  • I primarily process email on my 10.5″ iPad Pro using Spark or Airmail. I switch back and forth between the two every few weeks. Emails I can respond to immediately, I do. Emails that need further action get added to my to-do list. Both have a key feature that is critical to my workflow: The Share Sheet. This allows me to take an email and put it as a to-do item in my favorite task manager with a few taps without switching apps. As soon as an email gets added to my task list, it gets archived. The task includes a link directly to the email so I can get back to it quickly if needed.
  • On my Mac I also use Spark and Airmail, switching to whichever one I’m using on my iPad at the time. Both have widgets that allow me to share the email to my favorite task manager.
  • I use Things 3 as my task manager. Tasks that I share from my email get put into a holding zone (also called the Inbox), which I process and assign a due date and put into the correct bucket twice a day. Things has my definitive task list and I use it as a launch pad for planning my day each morning.
  • Every Monday I set my plan for the week and send it over to my boss. Because I’m not dogmatic about maintaining Inbox Zero every single day, I clear it out on Monday mornings before organizing my task list for the week just in case something in my email needs to go on the list.

That is it. This is consistent for me because it is tied to a concrete weekly deliverable: My weekly check-in with Isaac. In order to give an accurate representation of my priorities and tasks for the week, I must clean out my inbox first. I leave myself no choice in the matter, because if I did, I’m likely to ignore my inbox and let it get out of hand.