But once you get to Inbox Zero, the really hard part is maintaining it. As is the case with most things, keeping things simple is often the best way to ensure success.
With a system consisting of just five folders (or labels in the case of Gmail), you can keep your inbox free of clutter:
- Action: Move messages that have a task that ends up on your to-do list. If it takes just a few minutes to deal with – do it right then and there. If it’s going to require more effort or time, log it on your to-do list and move the email to this folder until the task is complete.
- Waiting: This is where you put any messages that are waiting on a response or input from someone else. If there’s nothing you can do about this message, don’t let it clutter your inbox.
- Ideas: This is something of a long-term folder that is entirely optional. I have found that I hang on to email that contain ideas for projects I can work on, or approaches I would like to test for my work, so this folder serves as a constant source of inspiration when I have spare time to be more proactive.
- Archive: Anything that has been dealt with can be thrown into one archive folder. If you’re properly logging any information that comes in from your emails, you don’t need to organize your archive.
- Project: If you have a particularly large project you’re working on with a lot of moving parts, you could consider creating a project-specific folder, with action and waiting subfolders. All of the emails can be moved into the main archive once the project is completed.
Many inbox zero purists would advise against a project-specific folder, but I’ve personally found that it helps ensure that nothing falls through the cracks on major projects.
And you can even a little automation into the mix for messages that you handle in the same way every time: Gmail, Outlook, and other major email providers make it easy to create smart rules and filters to move messages without ever touching them.