Gmail Inbox 0

I’ve been meaning to clean out my email for a while. Today I succeeded! Inbox 0 on my Gmail account.

What I learned

I’ve had my Gmail account for over 15 years, since when I graduated from college. I attempted this last year and didn’t make much progress… but this year it went pretty quickly. A few minutes of effort over a week’s time.

I’ve told a few people about this project: in general, the response is a deep groan. Sounds like a lot of work, and I know my email account is a mess.

I’d recommend it though. Your email is like the journal you didn’t have the time to keep. You might be amazed at what you were worried about and focused on a few years back, or how the things you were predicting turned out. Or the things your friends were trying to tell you that you missed. Or the messages from friends who have since passed away.

I really small example: I had forgotten that I owned a block of Amazon stock and sold it when it dropped by 10% in 2007. Ouch!

Plus – it can be fun to respond to emails from a previous decade 🙂

How to do it

Here’s what helped me:

  • Use Gmail’s Categories – I’d been trying to unsubscribe from emails for a few months unsuccessfully. Instead, I started to just use Gmail’s “Categories”–which are “Promotions”, “Social”, and “Inbox”. Anything that was a marketing email I dragged to promotions–generally these are emails that I don’t want to refer back to in the future. Any blog or article I moved to “Social”–since these are not high priority, but I’m generally interested in reading them. This allowed me to bulk delete the “Promotions” emails quickly, which was the majority of the emails I was receiving.
  • Make folders, change folders – For emails I wanted to keep, I use folders. For the first 100 or so emails in my inbox, I created a folder anytime I needed a new place to put something. I also created an “_Archive” folder, and moved any folders I didn’t find myself using into it. In general, any group of people or new project got its own folder.
  • Sort by received for new emails, sender for old emails – If you’re stuck cleaning out your inbox, start by sorting by sender. It gives you a fresh look at what’s there. If you have multiple emails from the same person, generally only the most recent is relevant.
  • Landing place for future projects – The biggest source of inbox clutter was things I’ve been meaning to get to, but haven’t gotten to yet. Blogs I like, but haven’t had the time to read–so they stay in my inbox. For those, I created topic folders so I have them filed and can come back to them easily. It was startling how much attention space was taken up by things I’ve been meaning to get to, but haven’t had time for yet.

This last point was the biggest lesson for me. For 2022, I’m working on simplifying my life, so it’s organized and I can get things. Inbox 0 was a good first step.

One other piece of encouragement. I’d attempted this last year and failed. (The biggest change this year was using the automated categories, so I could get rid of junk faster). I kept a record of how I was doing–so here’s what my path to Inbox 0 looks like. So – if you find yourself in the middle space where things aren’t getting better yet, keep experimenting (or set it aside to attempt next year)–you might have a breakthrough in your future.

Stay encouraged, and take care!

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