How I Reach Inbox Zero in Under 5 Minutes Every Day

Now that you know that I do not check email from 12 pm – 9 pm every day, we can get to the specifics of how I actually process my email.

A few months ago I started using the Mailbox App for my iPhone and iPad. I’m such a big fan that it has actually replaced the prime real estate on my iPhone and iPad also known as the “dock.” Having said that, I must point out that there’s nothing actually revolutionary about it. It’s main benefit lies in the swiping gestures, which perform 1 of 4 actions:

  1. Swipe all the way to the right – delete message
  2. Swipe a little to the right – archive message
  3. Swipe a little to the left – reschedule message to appear in inbox at a later date & time (a feature I never use)
  4. Swipe all the way to the left – move message to a specific folder.

Speaking of folders… here are the exact folders I use:

  • Requires Action
  • To Watch
  • To Read
  • Udemy Sign Ups
  • Udemy Reviews
  • Unsubscribe

It took me a little while to realize that the “Archive” folder on the Mailbox app actually goes to the “All Mail” folder within gmail.

Before going any further, I should mention that at the time of this post the Mailbox app only works with gmail accounts. If you have a non-gmail account you can technically set up email forwarding from your non-gmail account to your gmail account, but as you might guess, that can get a little messy.

Why this is important

If you’ve done any sort of research on email hacking, you’d know that the goal here is to get to the promised land known as “Inbox Zero“. Merlin Mann (awesome name right?) the creator of 43folders.com coined the term back in 2007. In a nutshell, it involves taking all incoming emails and immediately doing something with them. That way we don’t have to look at everything when checking email, only the new messages. This significantly lightens the cognitive load on our otherwise overworked and under-appreciated brains. Sorry about that, brain.

Email processing across all my devices

When I check email on my MacBook Pro I use the built-in Mail application (currently running version 5.3). I also take advantage of the “Smart Mailboxes” feature. For those of you who don’t know, these are mailboxes that match any or all of the dynamic criteria which you set. Very similar to iTunes’ “Smart Playlist” feature.

Since there is no swipe functionality on my laptop, I created a few custom keyboard shortcuts to help with email processing. They are not all inclusive, but they do speed things up a bit. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • CMD + SHIFT + U: Mark selected message(s) as read/unread
  • CTRL + CMD + A: Archive selected message(s)
  • SHIFT + CMD + J: Move selected message(s) to junk folder
  • CTRL + CMD + (2-7): Move selected message(s) to Requires Action folder

The range of 2-7 here means that to move to the Requires action folder of my first email account, I use CTRL + CMD + 2, to my 2nd gmail account, I use CTRL + CMD + 3, and so on.

The only reason I have an Unsubscribe folder is because sometimes when I process mail on my device I don’t have time to click on the unsubscribe link in the email (or I’m in the subway and don’t have Internet access). I used to put these in the Requires Action folder, but that didn’t sit well with me. Much like the street food I ate last weekend. Damn you halal cart!

Not to toot my own horn but…

I’ve gotten so good at processing email, that I’m usually done in less than 2 minutes. Mind you, I only get a dozen or 2 new messages every time I check in the morning or evening. By the way, a big part of that is simply unsubscribing to all mailing lists or newsletters that I am no longer interested in (all of them except Ramit Sethi, Ash Ambirge, and a few other lucky ducks).

Then, I spend my time in the morning going through my Requires Action folder. These are the emails that usually require an intelligent and well thought out response. I originally thought I could do these at night, but quickly discovered that’s not such a good idea. Let’s not talk about that….

The verdict

Since my goal here was to spend less time with email, get more done, and at a higher quality, I’d say mission accomplished!

The best part? I sleep like a baby because I don’t have to worry about emails slipping through the cracks or the daunting task of manually organizing them all into folders. More on the results of my sleep hacking challenge in a later post. In the meantime check out Scott Britton’s sleep hacking course on Udemy.

Have some cool email hacks you’d like to share? I think I speak for everyone when I say “please share them in the comments!”

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