Incoming zero. Two words that are whispered with bated breath, minimalists and life hackers, as if it were the Holy Grail. It’s as if all the world’s problems would be solved if you somehow processed and walked away from the 15,000 unread emails in your inbox.
Zero mailbox, called the act of completely clearing your mailbox, has become a bit of an obsession for some, and I must admit that I bit me myself. There is something very nice about deleting all emails. The psychology of this takes the weight off your shoulders, as if you were not a prisoner of your mailbox. That you are in charge.
But how do you get to this sublime position of the zero mailbox?
He: Unread is your friend
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll assume you’re using Gmail as your email provider. But these tips are more or less suitable for any email platform.
Log into your email and in the search bar enter: unread
This naturally triggers every unread email you have in your account. Now this is a case of systematic thinning and thinning of the wheat from the chaff.
- Remove those that are clearly spam.
- Unsubscribe from all newsletters you don’t. I don’t read anymore. The unsubscribe link will be either at the top of the Gmail window or at the bottom of the email.
- Create filters to redirect specific emails to their own labels. Thus, anything that belongs to a particular organization can have its own label. If you work for an ACME organization, create a filter and put all ACME organization data in the job label. Be sure to check the “Skip Inbox” and “Apply Filter to Matching Conversations” boxes.
Keep going for friends, family, colleagues, and so on. As emails from these people start redirecting to these labels, your inbox gets smaller.
Putting emails in labels simply moves them to a different area. This alone does not solve the problem. Rather, an â€œout of sight, out of sightâ€ scenario that should be avoided.
I would suggest deleting all unread that are over a month old. For people with thousands of emails, this can be a drastic step, but think about it. If the letter was about something really important, you would have received a response from the person again quite recently. If it was more than a month ago and the person hasn’t mentioned the topic anymore, it would probably be safe to destroy this 100 thread conversation about the company’s barbecue.
Now you only have a month left to deal with emails, and it’s much easier. Just go to the end of the All Mail section and start looking through each one.
Before you start, go to the Labs section and turn on Auto-Advance. Then, when you’ve deleted the email or otherwise processed it, instead of going back to your Inbox, you’ll move on to the next email. Much faster.
It will take a while and obviously you will receive new emails after that. But installing filters will mean that these new emails won’t clog your inbox, and there will be some semblance of order going forward.
How to keep things from getting out of control in the future
After your email moves to or close to mailbox zero, you need to store it there. Here are a few things you can do to keep your unread messages from starting to rise again.
Switch your newsletters to RSS or social networks
If you use RSS, an excellent alternative to e-newsletters is to run them through an RSS reader. You can use the free web application “Kill The Newsletter!”
It randomly generates an email address for you to subscribe to the newsletter, and then configures the connected RSS address to post in your RSS reader. Then, when the newsletter is out, it will appear in your RSS feed instead of your inbox. It works like a charm.
An alternative option is to follow this person or company through their social media profiles. But if they post a lot of status updates every day, chances are they are missing something.
Encourage people to connect with you on social media
Ask people to:
- send you a private message via Twitter.
- Send you a message on Facebook Messenger
- send you an Instagram chat message or their new standalone Threads chat app.
- Ask your work colleagues and freelance clients to chat with you on LinkedIn
Encourage people to send you instant messages
In addition to social media chat programs, you can also ask people to contact you via Skype, Signal, and WhatsApp
Use Pocket for the links you email yourself
A lot of people – and I myself am to blame for this – use email as a dumping ground for links that you want to save for later. These can be interesting online articles or things you want to buy.
Instead of clogging up your inbox, why not use Pocket or Instapaper to pick it up for you? I highly recommend Pocket and it is one of the few premium paid services out there.
Keeping incoming messages zero is a constant, never-ending job. Set up email filters, be selective about what you subscribe to, and keep marking unwanted emails as spam. The moment you stop making efforts, you will again see the unread message count rising again.