how i reached inbox zero.

Posted on: Monday, July 6, 2015

Tips for Reaching Inbox Zero | Ann-Marie Loves

I recently heard a quote along the lines of “I cleaned out my closet and now I can switch careers” and it made perfect sense to me. Clutter, whether it’s physical, mental, or digital, is incredibly draining on our energy. So on Saturday, with over 1200+ e-mails in my inbox, I decided to tackle my digital clutter head-on. It took two days of work, but I am proud to say I have finally reached inbox zero!

I’m not exactly sure how my inbox had spiraled out of control, but I think it was a mix of stressful life events (I can’t even tell you how many unread e-mails I had from my wedding planning and maternity leave days…whoops!) and a lack of consistent routine for checking and responding to messages. It’s amazing how something so seemingly innocuous can add up so quickly! While I’m sure most of you are on top of your e-mail game, maybe some of you can relate to my situation. Here are my tips for getting to inbox zero:

Set aside a large block of uninterrupted time. I managed to clear out my inbox in two days because John was home for the holiday weekend and could watch Briar for several hours while I got down to business. I needed those large blocks of uninterrupted time to really focus and stay in the zone, otherwise it never would have gotten done.

Get inspired. When it came to taking back my inbox, there were a few sources I turned to for inspiration: this video on the concept of Inbox Zero; this Elise Gets Crafty episode on getting organized; and personal conversations I have had with Amy and Elise.

When in doubt, archive. There were many e-mails that I didn’t want to delete but I also didn’t want to be in the forefront of my inbox. The answer? Archive them. You can always retrieve specific messages by typing in a few keywords in the search box at the top of the screen.

When in serious doubt, delete. There were a ton of e-mails that I knew I would never respond to or that I would honestly never reference again. In that case, I sent them straight to the trash.

Use keywords to perform mass deletions. When I was rifling through my overstuffed inbox, I would look for patterns to help me clean up faster. For example, when I would spot several unread e-mails from Dropbox, I would type in “Dropbox” in the search query and then all of the e-mails with that word in the title or the body of the message would appear. By doing this, I was able to highlight a ton of e-mails at the same time and then clear them out instantly with the click of the delete button. For some reason, I found this to be an easier organizational method than simply going from page to page and deleting as I saw fit.

Create canned responses. Since I get a lot e-mails on the same topic (i.e. sponsored post pitches), I created a few canned responses that I can quickly pull up, copy / paste into the new e-mail, and be on my merry way. In the past, I would have let those e-mails pile up — even if I was interested in the opportunity! — simply because it required an immediate detailed response from me.

Forgive yourself. This is a big one for me. I spent so much time over the past several months beating myself up over not being more organized and on top of things, but at a certain point, I just had to let go. Sure, I may have missed out on some fun opportunities and I may not have given people what they wanted from me, but I’m starting fresh now. Life goes on.

I feel so much better now and I am vowing to never let myself lose complete control of my inbox again. What are your best tips for managing e-mail?

  • Marina

    Email is no fun! I use Mailbox on all my devices to manage my email (though I’m sure I don’t get nearly as much as you do). It lets you deal with and organize emails quickly with just a swipe. It also sets up a reminder system so you can swipe if you can’t deal with an email now but want to see it again in the morning, etc. I love your last section about being compassionated with yourself and letting go. Mindfulness + email go hand in hand for sure. =)

  • anastasia

    I need to sort mine out too – Im so overwhelmed seeing all the emails there – its not getting easier or quicker if Im not on top of it!

  • Nora

    I have pretty much always had my inbox under control with everything checked, labeled and filtered every day…however I kept hanging on to the emails that were handled.

    With your encouragement and only about an hour, I just went from six years worth of emails saved (14,000+) for little to no reason and went down to less than 100 archived altogether. Thanks for sharing this…my inbox reads completely zero for the first time since 2009 and I LOVE it.

  • Erin

    Great idea! I use Gmail directly in my browser and that helps me stay on top of them day-to-day, but I do have the tendency to keep a lot of them for longer than I need to. If I used Outlook or Mail they would build up even more as I noticed that happened at work!

    Erin | Being Erin

  • Lisa Valinsky

    I try to keep my Gmail inbox at under 10 at all times. I keep a few things there that I want to remember, like long-term projects, but the key for me is to take care of it immediately and file it away. I’m a huge fan of folders! I can always look stuff up later when it’s needed.

  • Haley

    Inbox by Gmail is still in beta I believe but accessible. I love it. You categorize emails that are repetitive into categories and you can set preferences for each bundle. For example promo emails, sales, bundle together and wait until 8am to appear. But personal emails notify me immediately. If a bundle is stacking up and I don’t care to read any of them, archive the bundle with one click. If there’s a few keepers, you “pin” them to your inbox view to read later before archiving the bundle. Also in inbox view, images and travel itinerary are in quick view and aesthetically pleasing. With the bundles, I’m able to keep my emails to one iPhone screen long. And I daily sweep through and archive unwanted ones. It’s odd to stop deleting at first but you get the same satisfaction.

  • jenn

    Great tips and I loved hearing you and Elise chat on her podcast. Related to your discussion about the digital downloads selling from BegCartel (I just purchased your best of digital stamps) I found an option that might work for you. It’s called Pulley and it integrates with BigCartel for selling digital products:

    I also recently read that BigCartel’s Facebook app now allows people to buy right from Facebook.

  • Let's Share: Week 34 - The Forest in Snow

    […] One of my goals for August is to clear out my email […]

  • Jim McCullen

    Hello Ann-Marie
    I created a system and a book titled Control Your Day: A New Approach to Email Management using Microsoft Outlook and the concepts of GTD (Getting Things Done). If you are interested I would be happy to send a PDF version of the book. If you find the content of interest, I could do a guest post to provide your readers with a high level overview of the system and its benefits. We could also give away some copies to your community.

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