And nothing in here says anything about how to deal with that situation.

I read the advice as:

If you still have unresolved emails from 2015 in your inbox then keeping emails in your inbox isn't causing them to get resolved. Accept that, get a clean slate, and move on.

Make a folder called "old inbox" and put all your old emails there. Now you have an empty inbox! The costs of putting your old emails out of sight are less than the benefits of keeping an empty inbox going forward.

I do not believe the intention of the advice given is that emails in your inbox that you feel require some reponse, but that you don't see how to deal with completely in a few minutes, should be archived and forgotten. (Perhaps I misunderstood?)

Instrumental behaviour: Inbox zero - A guide

by Elo 2 min read12th Jan 201612 comments


This will be brief.

Inbox zero is a valuable thing to maintain.  Roughly promoted around the web as having an empty inbox.

An email inbox collects a few things:

  • junk
  • automatic mail sent to you
  • personal mail sent to you
  • work sent to you
  • (maybe - work you send to yourself because that's the best way to store information for now)
An inbox is a way to keep track of "how much I have to do yet".  Because of this; it's incredibly valuable to try to get to inbox zero.

This guide is for anyone with bajillions of emails in their inbox, some read; some not.  If you have an email system in place; don't change it.  if not - get one.  (maybe not this one - but do it).

0. decide that this is a good idea (this can be done after) but mostly I want to say - don't half-arse this, you might end up in a no-mans-land between the old and the new.

1. A program.  
I recommend Thunderbird because it's free.  I used to work in a webmail system but the speed of webmail is a joke in comparison to local mail.  also offline-powers are handy from time to time.  (Disadvantage - not always having backups for everything)

2. Archive system
This being January 2016 we are going to make a few main folders.  
  • Old as all hell (or other friendly name)
  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
Anything older than 2014 will probably never get looked at again; (just ask any email veteran) That's okay - that's what archives are for.

3. Old
Put anything old into the old folder

4. 2014
That was two years ago!  it will also go the same way as old-as-all-hell, but for now it can sit in 2014.

5. 2015
two options here - either:
a. leave them in your inbox and through the year sort them into the 2015 folder; remembering that things that old should go to sleep easy.
b. put them in 2015 where you can look at them when you need them.

6. 2016
There are a few simple behaviours that make the ongoing use of the system handy.
a. if you read a thing, and you have no more to do with it; file it away into 2016
b. if you read a thing and still have more to do; leave it in the inbox (If you can resolve it in under 5 minutes; try to do it now)
c. if you don't plan to read a thing AND it's not important AND you don't want to delete it; I strongly advise unsubscribing from the source; finding a way to stop them from coming in, or setting up a rule to auto-sort into a folder.
d.  Every automatically generated email has an unsubscribe button at the bottom.  If you have a one-time unsubscribe policy you will never have to see the same junk twice.
e. do some work; answer emails; send other emails etc.  and file things as you go.

7. other email folders
sure sometimes things need a bit of preserving; sometimes things need sorting - go ahead and do that.  Don't let me stop you.

Using this fairly ordinary system I can get my total email time down to about half an hour a week.

Don't like it? find a better system.  But don't leave them all there.

Final note: I have an email address for things I subscribe to that is separate to the email address I give out or use; this way I can check my subscriptions quickly without mixing them up with work/life/important things.

This post came out of a discussion in the IRC.  It took 30mins to write and is probably full of errors and in need of improving; this was written with no research and there are likely better systems in existence.  It partially incorporates a "Getting Things Done" attitude but I might post more about that soon.

Feel free to share your system in the comments, or suggest improvements.

Other posts I have written can be found in my Table of contents