What does Inbox Zero mean to me?

  • “Inbox Zero” does not just mean throwing stuff away
  • Your Inbox is not your To-do List. Your To-Do list is your To-Do list.
  • Email is for communication and immediate action.

Our Goal

  • Our superficial goal is to get our Inbox as close to empty each day as possible
  • Our intermediate goal is to increase our efficiency and productivity
  • Our real goal is to reduce our anxiety coming from constant bombardment of email

General Philosophies

  • Do not leave your e-mail client open. Process mail only a predetermined times per day
  • Aggressively unsubscribe from all junk correspondence
  • Aggressively set filtres to shunt things to folders as needed
    • But this is just for tagging/archiving.
    • You should not be using filtres for managing email - you shouldn’t be subscribed to anything that you don’t actively read.
    • So if you’re shunting logsignature files into a folder never to be read - then unsubscribe from them, for example
  • Make good use of the “Unread” smart folder
  • Start off with a clean slate
    • Traditional advice is to start off by making a “sacrifice” and archiving all outstanding messages
      • If it’s important enough, they’ll reply you back
    • That having been said, I personally prefer to make one heroic effort to clear all backlog at one go
      • I do a quick and abbreviated triage - no more than a few seconds per e-mail
      • This is due to my basic rule: read every single piece of correspondence with your name on it.
      • That having been said, I’m much more ruthless during this initial triage than usual.
    • Regardless of which path you choose remember the golden rule: You are not beholden to your e-mail. You are not its slave, it is your tool.
  • See also: my general rules for business

Inbox Zero Techniques

  • Start with your unread folder.
  • Read every piece of correspondence and do something with it
    • If it doesn’t require a reply or action, archive it
      • If it requires a reply:
        • If you can reply within less than 2 minutes, then do so and archive it
          • We reply to group messages only if we have something meaningful to add
        • If it takes longer than 2 minutes, flag it for later
        • If it can be better answered by someone else, then forward it
      • If it requires action (i.e. JIRA etc.):
        • If you can do it in less than 5 minutes, then do it (GTD)
        • If it requires longer-term action, create a To-Do then archive it
          • You can triage the To-Do later in your To-Do flow
          • If it’s super urgent, you can triage when you make it of course
  • Then move on to your flagged messages and reply them. You can do this once a day if you’d like.

Deeper Cuts

Keeping in mind our ultimate goal of “Reducing our anxiety coming from constant bombardment of e-mail” there are a couple of other things we do:

  • Turn off notifications for your work e-mail.
    • Especially for the home screen, but also recommend even the badge and alerts whilst you’re using the phone, etc.
    • Remember, your e-mail works for you, when you want it, not the other way around
    • For super urgent things, there’s instant messenger/phone. At the moment this balance is working for me, but I do mute all group conversations.
  • Use separate e-mail clients/apps
    • This way you can check your private accounts without stressing about work
  • Use “Do Not Disturb” mode on your phone, computer, tablet etc.
    • Between 20:00 - 9:00 is my time.
    • If I choose to do any work during that time, it’s from my own volition and initiation.
  • Do not check your work e-mail until you get to work.
    • The mornings should belong to you - the first thing when you wake up in the morning is kiss your loved one, enjoy a cup of coffee, pancakes, whatever. Not check your mail!
    • Some people take this philosophy further and recommend we don’t even check our mail for the first time until the afternoon.
    • Remember: “What you will be most proud of a decade from now will not be anything that was a result of you simply responding.” [LINK]

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To-Do Process

General Techniques

  • Create new to-dos in a set category with no pre-set due date
  • Create a “Triage” smart folder that collects all items with no due date
  • At the end of every day:
    • Triage your smart folder, assigning due dates as needed
    • Review the “next three days” smart view to see what’s coming up and adjust your load as needed
  • Prioritisation
    • Stars: Big tasks, absolutely must-dos, but requires a lot of effort or time.
    • 3: Do first - these may be high urgency, but more likely they’re easy to knock out of the way (fast, low input required). Should be the first things you do this day.
    • 2: Do next - may be more urgent than 3s, but they require more input or time/effort to complete. You should do these next after the 3s
    • 1: Not really important or urgent - it is okay not to complete these or fling them into the future.
    • Our goal is to knock out the 3s and 2s (in early morning and mid-morning respectively) to leave us free to focus on getting out the starred items in the afternoon
  • Some big tasks require multiple days to complete, or will continue on in perpetuity (“evergreen tasks”)
    • Duplicate the task and give it a new date when you’re done with it
  • Use the “notes” column to keep track of meta-data around the task
    • When you duplicate “evergreen” tasks, you would update the notes and this lets you keep track of your evolving progress on it
    • Maybe better to move these notes that evolve over time for evergreen tasks into a Notetaking app, such as how we’re doing with Photography Contact lists…


  • You absolutely need something that syncs across all your devices.
    • Key is to capture tasks immediately and be able to use your free time to manage them/check them off.
  • Options
    • Things
    • 2Do