"Inbox Zero" is a thing?

Since he asked.

Do you try to get your inbox down to zero unread messages? If so, why?

Wait, zero unread messages? I thought "inbox zero" meant zero messages.

People aiming for zero unread messages are at stage one. I'm at stage two: my email inbox contains almost zero messages outright. Since the snazzy "inbox zero" term is already taken, I suppose this could be called "true inbox zero". Or perhaps "inbox zero omega". "Inbox double zero"?

Every email in my inbox has been read. Every email which has been acted upon, and requires no further action from me, has been archived or deleted. Thus, my email inbox constitutes a list of items still requiring action from me, even if the action is "read this email". It is a portion of my global "Things To Do" list.

At the moment, my inbox contains four email conversations. In my archive directory, there are 8300 more email conversations, all of which are concluded from my perspective. (Some of these conversations are still in progress, but if I'm waiting for a response from somebody else then the conversation doesn't require an action from me, so I archive it until the response arrives and bumps it back into the inbox.)

Is inbox zero something you try to achieve every day? Every month? Every quarter?

There's no "try to". I read all of my email. Otherwise, the "you have unread emails" notification in my system tray is useless. But it's unrealistic to expect to be able to truly empty my inbox. We all have Things To Do and always will.

I keep my "To Do" list short. When it gets too long, I focus more attention on shortening it. Same as everybody does.

What does inbox zero represent to you? Does it have deeper meaning?

My email inbox is a portion of my global "Things To Do" list. Inbox zero means I've done everything. That's all.

Does inbox zero lead to better overall organization?

It's always easier to organise fewer things.


In the same way that I lead an intentionally minimalist lifestyle, I have always striven to keep my email inbox as empty as possible by dealing with everything that needs to be dealt with. This is just something that I have done for as long as I can remember, and it is something which I assumed that pretty much everybody else in the world also did, because the reasons for doing so are so obvious and compelling.

I had no idea that "keep your inbox tidy, like everything else in your life" had such a fancy name, or had enough mileage in it to be worth writing a book around. I'm suddenly given to wonder what else there is that I do, which seems blindingly obvious to me, but which would rock the rest of the world to its core.

Discussion (12)

2011-01-15 01:47:59 by Josh:

Wow, I didn't even know Inbox Zero was a thing. Maybe it's because the only inbox besides my own that I recall seeing is my brother's. He has thousands of messages in his inbox, and over 1700 unread e-mails. This to me seems entirely unnecessary. My inbox has been relatively clean since I first started using e-mail almost six years ago. So why do you think you put "Read unread e-mails" and "Archive e-mails in inbox" on your global to-do list?

2011-01-15 04:57:04 by Kochier:

My inbox is always empty, I have no unread messages. I archive most e-mails in various folders depending on what they are about. I don't really use e-mails for conversations, but when I do I keep the chain of e-mails in my inbox as it is my goings on. When I am finished with the conversation I will delete any unnecessary parts of the conversation and archive the rest. My mom's e-mail is a disaster, she has hundreds of unread e-mails, and thousands in her inbox. It stuns me that she uses it like that.

2011-01-15 06:29:47 by Euclid:

I read all my emails, but my inbox isn't empty; it's full of read emails. And they're there if I need them. Why is it better to archive them rather then just keep them right there at easy access?

2011-01-15 14:46:30 by Knut:

I second that Euclid.

2011-01-15 17:59:50 by Snowyowl:

My e-mail inbox is usually full of spam. My instincts tell me to do what you're doing and clear the whole thing out, but the outdated interface I'm limited to doesn't have a "delete all" button. The only alternative is to go through 1100 messages, deleting them ten at a time. "Inbox zero" for me just means that I can use the "unread messages" counter to see if there is anything worth reading in my inbox (i.e. that I haven't read already).

2011-01-15 23:41:51 by Dennis:

I pretty much handle my email the same way you do. The only difference is that I like to keep ongoing conversations in my inbox as well. I used to archive them but it turned out I often required people to reply to certain messages, which they wouldn't. I'd forget about the subject, as would the other party, and a month later it'd backfire on both of us because whatever process we were discussing wasn't finished. Now I only archive messages whenever the subject it regards is completely finished in all ways. That way, if I don't get a message back by someone, I can remind them if they don't respond to me. Works great. I have about 10-20 inbox messages at any given time, which is quite handleable. I really like my system. That's my gmail-account by the way, most spam goes to my hotmail account, in which I don't archive at all and which I only check once a month or so, if not less.

2011-01-19 22:57:32 by Boter:

Silly what people will term and make a big deal of. I maintain zero unread messages; otherwise, as you say, the notifications are worthless. The only time I leave it unread is if I need to act on it, i.e. "to do list". However, my inbox has a crapton of messages in it; I only have folders for things that will have a lot of messages (one for each of my various film projects, namely); otherwise I let things sit in my fully searchable inbox. Yes, I'm a pack rat, but there have legitimately been times when I needed something from an e-mail I'd received two years ago. Granted, I could make a separate folder called "Read" or "Acted Upon", but... well, that's what my inbox is. (Also, Firefox, "inbox" is totally a word. Shut up already.)

2011-02-05 14:55:54 by AndyP:

Absolute Inbox Zero! (273 messages below normal inbox zero)

2011-03-26 21:01:35 by Jonn:

My inbox is largely filled with Livejournal comment replies, so I use it as an searchable archive in case I need to look up something. Aside from that, it's pretty rare to get emails.

2011-06-02 09:46:37 by David:

This. I work email/inboxes similarly. I archive everything - starred if awaiting action which may not come via email - and process to zero. I don't see why anything needs be in the inbox unless it needs 'actioning' on as a to-do list. I just don't get people who don't do email this way, it's so obviously the best way! Great site btw; I arrived via the Primer explanation and generally agree with and like most of what else is on the site.

2016-06-13 16:32:38 by Eragon @ Knut & Euclid:

The reason it's better not to just leave them sitting in your inbox is simply a matter of organization. It may be easier to access while you only have 10 or 20 emails sitting there (though even that may be a stretch) but when you start getting closer to 30 or 50 or 100, it becomes nearly impossible to find what you're looking for unless you have a good sorting method.

2016-07-02 17:53:55 by Corin:

Have you tried Google Inbox? I've been using it for the past couple months and it pretty much automates some of this. It'll bundle emails like newsletters together so that you can dismiss them all at once, and you can also snooze emails until a certain time or date.

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