Maintaining a clean inbox is a real challenge. You can put a ton of effort into cleaning it up, reaching close to inbox zero, and just finding yourself back where you started in a month.
The key to getting to inbox zero is automating as much of the process as you can and rethinking your approach to email.
1. Make Labels Your Best Friend
Gmail labels have been around for a long time, but this simple feature can do wonders to tame your inbox. Labels will satisfy that urge to open every new email. Adding one will make you feel you’ve temporarily addressed the waiting message by applying a label.
The following is a suggested set of tier one labels to create every morning as you scan your inbox and plan your day: Today, Done, Waiting For, To-Do, Reply.
In addition to these tier one labels, which you should apply to all emails that require some sort of action, you can create tier two labels based on any of the following: sender, project/theme, priority, team etc. These tier two labels will depend more on your own work flow and needs.
Color code your labels. That way, you can tell just how many urgent emails you have to reply to at a glance.
2. Rules, Rules, Rules
Creating filters or rules in your inbox is an easy way to stay organized. You can divert mail by automatically applying labels using the criteria of your choice. This criteria can be the same as your tier two labels listed above.
But remember, this is only half the work. The other half is processing incoming messages, streamlined by this process. So how do you actually get that done?
- Go to Settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses.
- Click Create a new filter to get started on cleaning up your Gmail inbox for good. You have to enter at least one of the following: sender, recipient, subject, key words, excluded key words, has an attachment, and size of the email in megabytes, kilobytes, or bytes.
- Enter their email address in the from field and click Create filter with this.
- You then have several choices as to what you can do with that email, and can select more than one. For our purposes the relevant choices are: archive it, star it, apply a label, and delete it. Of these, a combination of archiving and labeling will be the most important options for this exercise.
- If you want to apply the filter to existing emails in your inbox, check Also apply filter to X matching conversations.
- Click Create filter.
To see this process in action and second way to access the filter dialog box, check out the video below:
Despite their simplicity, you can use Gmail’s filters to set up extremely robust workflows. Use filters to do the following:
- Create a rule for all emails received from one domain.
- Create a rule for all emails except those from one domain.
- Create a rule for emails that require you to take an action before deleting them.
- Auto-delete emails you don’t want to receive.
3. Automate More Than Just Labels
While you can automate labels and more using rules, there’s more ways you can automate processes in your Gmail inbox in a quest to keep it clean.
Using an automation service like IFTTT alongside Gmail will allow you to automatically create certain triggers based on the labels you add.
Some examples include:
- Assign labels to create Trello tasks or ToDoist Tasks.
- Save Gmail messages to OneNote or Evernote.
- Save receipts to a Google spreadsheet.
- Assign labels to create a reminder on your phone.
- Save Gmail attachments to Google Drive.
- This will not do anything to mitigate storage issues since Gmail and Google Drive storage limits are combined.
Another useful semi-automated process in Gmail is the use of canned responses. These automated responses take all the work out of sending the same email response over and over.
To use the feature, go to Settings > Labs and enable Canned Responses. To start creating them, just create a new message and rather than sending the message, click the arrow next to the trash can and go to Canned Responses > New Canned Response. You can see the process in action in the video below:
Scenarios where you can use them include:
- Create smart autoresponders.
- Once you enable Canned Responses, they will be available as a trigger in Gmail filters.
- Send out the same email multiple times.
- Use multiple signatures.
4. Clean Up Subscriptions
If you’re inbox is a hot mess, it’s going to take more than a hot minute to clean it up. In addition to setting up filters for incoming email, you still have to deal with the existing chaos. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes each day to start cleaning up your subscriptions and adding labels to your messages.
You can do this manually by scanning your inbox, determining the subscriptions you want to keep and those you want to get rid of. As you choose the newsletters to ditch, just do a quick search with the operator from: accompanied by the sender’s email, and delete all the emails.
If you’d prefer to automate the process there are a few services worth checking out. You can manage your email subscriptions and mass unsubscribe from the newsletters you no longer want to receive with services like Unroll.Me.
If you do choose to use Unroll.Me, you should know that the company was recently criticized for selling user information.
Another way to keep those subscriptions from clogging up your inbox is to use a disposable email address, since some of these services allow you to maintain that inbox for as long as you want.
5. Maintaining Inbox Zero
After cleaning up your inbox, there are a few basic steps to maintaining a clean inbox:
- Turn off social media email notifications.
- Limit time spent on email. Determine the time you can dedicate to email every day and don’t exceed it. This will help prioritize responding to and archiving important emails.
- Make a note of exceptions to step 2. If your boss asks you to respond to an email, you can’t ignore that. Review all the reasons you exceeded the time limit and cut out the ones that don’t matter.
- Only respond when you have to. If the message is two or three words, chances are you don’t need to send it unless confirmation is required.
What tips or tricks do you use to maintain inbox zero in your Gmail account? Do you think it’s a futile exercise? Let us know in the comments.
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