Achieve Inbox Zen In A Few Simple Steps.

Have you ever had the honor of glancing at a friend or fellow business owner's home screen and saw their email notification number? We all have those friends who're new emails look more like a barcode or a social security number.


Those red bubbles on my home screen are a sign of work that needs to be done or else there will be no peace when I see the home screen. As soon as I see the alert it has to go at that moment otherwise I am pulling my beard out a strand at a time. Have you ever heard that a tidy space equals a tidy mind and vice versa? If there is clutter all over the place all you can actually think about is “I should really clean this place up.” 

Some people honestly do not care about the missed notifications (obviously). “I have better things to than making sure I respond to every notification on my phone.” I totally agree with them, there are better ways that you can spend your time. I also have a few questions:

  • How do you know when an important email comes in?

  • What is your response process?

  • How many email accounts are you managing at once and what is the hierarchy?

I learned about “Inbox Zero” causally reading and realized that it was something I practiced before know I was practicing it. I get the same satisfaction I would get from completing a really tricky video edit or finishing up my gym session, I mean you get the picture — it just feels great to feel like you have completed something challenging. It just feels great. 

For that one person who wants their home screen zen or the person who wants to maintain their home screen zen here are a few simple things that you can implement starting now to gradually get that inbox down to zero. 

Unsubscribe and Spam

The first thing we’re going to physically do is start deleting and unsubscribing to all your spam. You’ll be surprised how much clutter this clears alone, even before handling the important stuff.

Here are the kinds you most likely get:

  • Emails from people you always respond to

  • Emails from people you sometimes respond to

  • Emails from people you never respond to

  • Newsletters and subscriptions (you actually subscribe to)

  • Social media alerts

  • Junk/spam/PR messages/unidentified senders

Those last three categories are what we’re going to deal with first here, the “non-work” or “for fun” pile.

Newsletters and Subscriptions

These are the most important of the “junk” mail, because chances are you subscribed to these at some point in time for a legitimate reason. It can be a store you love and receive coupons from, a news outlet, a scientific magazine, a product round-up.

So, before I play bad cop and say to get rid of it all—which, honestly, isn’t a horrible idea if you want a fresh start—let’s put everything into perspective and figure out what you’re actually using. For each one, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. How often do you open them?

  2. If you do open them, how often do you actually read them?

  3. If you do read them, how often do you then use them? (whether this means printing it out, sending it to a friend, referencing it in your work, saving it and reading it again later)

If you can’t answer these questions, unsubscribe and delete. If you can’t make it to number three, unsubscribe and delete. If you can’t remember how you started receiving them in the first place, unsubscribe and delete. If you don’t open them frequently enough, unsubscribe and delete. If you’re on the fence— is an app that’ll help you sort through that massive pile of subscriptions so you don’t have to do the work yourself.

Be kind, but be honest with yourself. Are you really going to remember to use that coupon before it expires? Are you ever really going to go back and read that article? Do you really care about hearing about XYZ? If it’s not an enthusiastic “Yes!” save yourself the headache later and cut the cord.

Using Labels and Folders

This is an option for people like myself who refuse to use apps when they can do it themselves. First, figure out for each email if you have to respond immediately, if you need to respond later, or if you don’t need to respond at all (for this one I’m going to say open it, read it, and either file it or delete it right at the same moment). 

Then, decide your plan of action. If you need to respond soon but don’t have the time now, star it or put it in a folder labeled “Need to respond to” and put a note on your to-do list to check back on that folder. 

If you need to wait longer—maybe because you’re working on something related—send a short response letting the sender know you saw the message and will get back to him or her in X days. Then, file it in another folder labeled “In process.”

When naming your folders, make sure you’re specific and making them easily recognizable. There’s nothing worse than forgetting where you put your bank statements or insurance information because the folder was labeled “Miscellaneous.”

The most important trick to opening every message on the spot is having another back-up system in place. Sure, using folders keeps them organized, but because they’re already opened there’s no warning sign to check up on them. So, lean on your to-do list, your online calendar, or your phone reminders to make sure you’re keeping track of when you receive something and when you need to get back to someone.

Create a System for the Future

Congratulations! You (hopefully) have gone through every email, deleted or sorted it, and reached that beautiful number zero.