Inbox zero nirvana: Using archive and stars in Gmail

Over the end of year holiday break, I cleansed my work and personal inbox. My work inbox had hundreds of emails, some as old as 8 months in it. While I’m not an “inbox zero” nut, the amount of clutter in my Inbox had become overwhelming and distracting. I decided something had to be done.

Through the beauty of Gmail, I was managing my overwhelming inbox by searching for emails based on sender or subject. I rarely paged through it to find an email. That’s when it hit me – I should just archive all emails that I might ever want to get back instead of letting them clutter my inbox. For any of these emails that need follow up, I can record a task in my to-do list. ¬†For any urgent emails, I can star it in Gmail to remind me to follow-up quickly, and then archive it out of my inbox.

Since making the change at the beginning of the year, I’ve had a successful six week run. My inbox has remained very light (not quite zero, but close enough). I’ve also done a much better job of managing my email workload. In other words, instead of letting my email manage me and my time, I’ve been able to use archive, starring and search to flip the tables. I now feel like I’m in control of my email rather than having it control me.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your email inbox and haven’t been able to find a solution, here are my suggestions:

  1. Use archive in Gmail to save any emails that you may want to come back to or that you’ll need later. Don’t worry about looking for or creating the right label, just archive it. If an email requires action, record the task in your to-do list and prioritize with the rest of your daily tasks for completion.
  2. If an email needs an immediate response or is important for other reasons, then star it. Just be careful not to abuse the star function. Save it for emails that are truly urgent and need immediate attention. If you have more than a handful of starred emails (10-15 at most), then you’re abusing the function.
  3. Rely on and use the search function of Gmail to find old emails instead of trying to define and optimize your own archive and labeling solution.

This system has worked for me over the last six weeks, so I’m going to run with it. If there are any tips you have found useful for managing your email inbox, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about them!

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