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What is inbox zero?

Definition: Inbox Zero is a productivity method that involves keeping the email inbox empty. The strategy aims to reduce the amount of email that takes up an employee's mental space.

Popularized by productivity guru Merlin Mann in 2006, inbox zero advocates for an empty or nearly empty inbox. It focuses instead on the most important and urgent emails.

Inbox zero uses sorting tools and filters to eliminate unnecessary items — archiving and keeping only the important emails. Only a few emails are in the inbox at any given time — and those are actionable items that require a response.

Principles of the inbox zero method

  1. Delete

Email is used for communication, not storage. Only keep emails related to current projects or tasks, and archive or delete everything else.

  1. Delegate

Relegate emails that require action to qualified team members.  Delegating comes in handy when the recipient is unavailable.

  1. Respond

Process and deal with emails as soon as possible. If more information or time to respond is required, set a deadline for when to respond.

  1. Defer

The deferral method is ideal for emails that require action but are low-priority items that will be dealt with later. An effective way is to use a task manager to organize items into folders for later processing.

  1. Do

Deal promptly with messages that require action to move them out of the inbox. Those that don’t require action are archived or deleted.

H2: Example: Setting up inbox zero in Gmail

Embed this video: Inbox Zero Tutorial (Step-by-step Instructions) 

Step 1: Customize the mailbox

Streamline all inboxes to one place using Gmail's tools. 

The Multiple Inboxes setting views and manages all messages from one inbox. Experts recommend organizing mailboxes as separate folders or merging them, so all messages are in one place.

To customize inboxes, follow these steps:

  1. Log into the mail account
  2. Click the "Settings" icon
  3. Choose the "See All" settings button
  4. Navigate to the "Inbox" tab
  5. Personalize the settings

Step 2: Sort messages

Create a system that processes incoming messages quickly and easily. 

Gmail automatically labels emails into one of the following categories:

  • Primary
  • Social
  • Promotions

One way is to create an "inbox zero" folder to organize all messages from all mailboxes

To achieve this, set a rule in Gmail settings to move all unread emails from the "primary" inbox into the "inbox zero" folder. This way, the latest messages are easily accessible without scrolling through old ones. 

Another solution involves using filters to sort messages to the right category automatically. For instance, the "Do not mail" feature automatically deletes any email that's not important or actionable from the inbox. 

Step 3: Set up response templates

  1. Click "Settings" > "Advanced" > “Enable Template” > “Save settings.”
  2. Create a new email by clicking on the “Compose” button.
  3. Type the message you’d like to save.
  4. Save the template.

Step 4: Use Mindmesh to stay on track

  1. Go to and click on the “Get Started Button.”
  2. Create an account and follow the onboarding process.
  3. Integrate Mindmesh with your Gmail account.
  4. Click on the “Send to my desk” button and automatically create a task to review the email later.

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Article FAQs

ho invented inbox zero?
Inbox zero is a concept that was popularized by Merlin Mann, an American writer and speaker, in 2006.
How do I get to inbox zero with thousands of emails?
Use mail management tools like filters and labeling to help sort the mailbox. Delete unnecessary items and archive important ones. Process incoming emails at once, decide if they warrant an action or response, and label them appropriately.
What are the cons of the inbox zero method?
It requires a significant time investment upfront to get everything organized, filed away, and categorized correctly. Additionally, emails that don't need immediate action are forgotten or overlooked due to focus on higher priority messages and a lack of consistent follow-up.

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