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Inbox Zero — A Myth or an Effective Email Management Method?

Posted by Christin on December 30, 2020

How to use the inbox zero approach

Marketing Manager

PR & Media Relations Supporting the team by communicating Mailbird and its great features to existing and potential users and media.

Published on December 30, 2020

Email users struggle with information overload heightened by the number of messages they receive at work, and an almost equal number of marketing newsletters pour into their inboxes each day. It’s no wonder people start looking for a way to reduce email-induced stress that doesn’t involve getting rid of that inbox. One such way is adopting the Inbox Zero approach.

It may sound like a subtitle of a glorified spy movie, but this approach is far more than a cool name. Some consider it to be the “holy grail” of email management because of its ideology and its resulting ease of mind. Others consider it a cause of more problems.

What Is Inbox Zero?

Inbox Zero is an approach in time management aimed at improving the email experience, making email management more effective and productive. This approach is often criticized for putting pressure on email users to keep their inboxes clean, but it’s also often misunderstood.

To quote Merlin Mann, a productivity expert who developed this approach, the “zero” refers to “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in their inbox.” This is all the more confusing, if taken literally — if you shouldn’t spend time in your inbox, why use it?

However, if you dig deeper into the proposed approach, despite the bold name, Inbox Zero is more about putting your attention where it’s most needed, rather than anything else.

How to Get to Inbox Zero

Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero centers around five activities that should be applied to every email that drops in your inbox — do, respond, delegate, defer, or delete. However, there are some tips for improving email management that go along with those actions:

  • If your inbox is already full of clutter, start with deleting and archiving as many as you can.
  • Don’t keep your web or desktop email client running at all times.
  • Portion out the time spent processing your email throughout the day.
  • If you know that an email can be better answered by someone else, forward it to them.
  • Create a separate folder for emails that require more than two minutes for response or can be answered later.
  • Respond to emails immediately if they can be dealt with in two minutes or less.

If you heed this advice, you can gradually reduce the time spent bouncing your attention to your inbox and back to work or other activities. However, before you start, let’s figure out if the Inbox Zero approach is something you should whole-heartedly embrace.

Should You Adopt the Inbox Zero Approach?

Inbox Zero is touted as the ultimate way to declutter your electronic communications. When there isn’t a single email in your inbox, a huge weight feels like it has been lifted from your shoulders. There isn’t any anxiety about responding to an email. No more letting so many I’ll-get-to-them-later messages build. (You never actually get to them later.)

The theory is that by keeping your inbox at zero, you’re constantly at tabula rasa or a “blank slate.” You can immediately deal with any emails that arrive in your inbox, which improves time management in reducing how much time you spend on electronic communications. You can then focus your energies on the important tasks at hand. It is supposed to be a way to increase productivity and efficiency.

While this is a great strategy, it really isn’t a practical way to control your email inbox. At some point, constantly maintaining Inbox Zero becomes more of a hassle than a helper. It becomes a near obsession to ensure a single email doesn’t sit in your inbox. Quite frankly, it’s downright idealistic.

So, How Do You Reach “Inbox Zero” without Idealism in Your Approach?

You can try to maintain Inbox Zero, but it is not a constructive use of your time and may become yet another cause of anxiety or stress. There are, however, quite a few methods to help drastically reduce the number of emails currently in your inbox. Implement these email management tips to lower the stress of your emails and increase daily productivity.

1. Schedule time for emails

Scheduling time for email is one of the tips given in the Inbox Zero time management approach, and it’s a good one. It might sound silly to create a schedule for email checking, but look at it from another angle: every day you follow a routine, whether before you get to work, at work, or before bed. Now think of how you spend your work day. It’s probably the same day to day.

If your daily work routine is pretty similar, it shouldn’t be a problem to fit in email checking at regular intervals. It could even be once or twice a day if you don’t receive many messages. 

Takeaway: Depending on the number of emails you receive per day, give yourself an appropriate window of time to respond, label, or delete any emails first thing in the morning.

For example, check email around the lunch hour and at the end of your workday. 

These time slots are allocated towards your email, so you can maintain your sanity in between. Stick to them, and don’t let other things impinge on that time.

By setting aside a specific time to clear your inbox, you won’t be distracted by the ever-growing number of emails throughout the day. Instead, your clear inbox at the beginning of the day provides a blank slate. The repeated action throughout the day is a great way to maintain that same feeling of clarity. Your mind will feel as clear as your inbox because you don’t have scads of emails looming over your head.

2. Don’t let emails build over time

Deal with each email right away. If you’ve already taken the time to open and read the email, why not finish the job?

The problem with the two-minute rule is that it takes more time to come back to that email and answer it at a later time because you must re-read the email and then craft an appropriate response. Of course, if you can take action with an email right away or you realize it’s a commercial email you’re not interested in, you can use the quick action bar to deal with an email. You could also forward the email to the person you think is more competent to reply to it.

Since you’ve already taken care of your inbox at specific times throughout the day, each new email that comes in can be dealt with in the easiest way for you, at any given time. Permitting emails to build up is a bad habit. This often leads you to neglect your inbox, leading to the crazy backlog you more than likely have right now. Answering emails as they come in, rather than setting them aside, paves the path towards a far more manageable inbox.

How to deal with more complicated emails

Of course, there are lengthy emails that require more than the specified time you set aside. Label them for a later response, and set aside additional time to answer that email. It’s important to focus on the types of emails you receive, so you can choose the best way to deal with them as they enter your inbox.

What tools can help

At Mailbird, we know the hassle of getting to all of your emails, no matter what length. That’s why we have implemented a lot of features to make it easier to deal with your email load, like quick compose, quick reply, keyboard shortcuts, and clean in-line reply, to mention only a few.

Need a great tool to help you deal with your emails?

Get Mailbird Free

3. Make labels and folders your best friends

You’ve scheduled your email time, and you deal with email right away within that dedicated time, but as mentioned just above, some types of email you can’t deal with straight away or don’t need to. And that’s where folders (or labels, as Google has dubbed them) come in handy.

Maintaining labels and folders can be essential to your success in managing your inbox. You can archive emails you’re done with and leave others in the inbox. But a good filing system will help you retrieve any information from your mailbox much faster because looking for it via email search doesn’t always work the best — especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for exactly.

Got a payment confirmation? Why not stick it in a Payments folder, so you can easily view your purchasing habits? Folder names can also be based on specific email addresses, projects, and activities.

How to use folders for email management

  • Create a project folder. If you’re heading up a big project, create a folder with the name of it. 
  • Fill it up. Send any emails regarding that project to your newly created folder. Repeat this action with other easily identifiable threads of emails. 
  • Create a filter. Take it a step further and create a filter that will automatically send similar emails to that folder.

From there, label and organize emails in a method that makes the most sense to you. Ultimately, you are looking to create folders for important emails and remove any unnecessary clutter. Whatever you choose to label your emails, make sure you place them in an appropriate folder once you’ve taken any required actions, or create a filter rule to make the process automatic.

How to create folders in Mailbird

In Mailbird, it is very simple to create folders and add labels to your emails. Once you label your emails, they will always be located in the corresponding folder until you move them to another folder or delete the current one.

Don’t worry, deleting a folder doesn’t delete all the emails in it!

You can customize and choose the color of each label to make it even more organized. Do you need help setting up folders and labels? Check out our Knowledge Base article that answers all of your questions.

Set up Labels and Folders in Mailbird

4. Unsubscribe from commercial emails you don’t need

How many newsletters, sales, or random emails do you receive from blogs and sites from which you’ve signed up for a subscription? More than likely, it’s a lot. It’s easy to just delete them and move on, but they’ll continue bombarding your inbox over time. Maybe a clothing boutique only sends something once a week, but when was the last time you actually read their newsletter? Pretty sure it’s never, and you only signed up for a coupon offer or other deal.

Do yourself a favor and stop ignoring the problem by simply deleting the offending email.

How to reduce the subscription list

Determine which email subscriptions you actually read, and mass unsubscribe from the rest. This process can be done slowly over time, as the emails arise, or all at once. Either way, the random clutter in your inbox will be significantly reduced by performing this simple task.

In order to help mitigate any future communications from a blog or website you’ve signed up for, unsubscribe from their list immediately after receiving your coupon code or other enticing deal. This will stop the flood from ever occurring in the first place.

How to unsubscribe with Mailbird

Would it take too long to unsubscribe? We have implemented a great app for that in Mailbird called This fantastic app helps you unsubscribe from unwanted emails and also bundles other emails like newsletters, coupons, and other ad-mails into one “Rollup” email. Instead of receiving ten individual emails, you will only need to open one. It’s definitely worth a try. You can simply activate in your Mailbird App store.

5. Hide emails for later

This may seem like cheating, but it can be a very effective use of your time. At the end of the day, use an email scheduler to hold off on emails until the morning or in between your scheduled email time. You’ll finish the day feeling like you’ve maintained a clean inbox. Furthermore, you will not receive any notifications until you visit your mail application the next day or whenever you have scheduled them to come back to your inbox.

How to hide emails

Use snooze as a strategic tool to maximize the amount of time you focus on each task at hand — and not your email. If you have a tight deadline, snooze all unrelated emails for a set period of time, and put all of your energies into the project and the emails specifically related to it. Once complete, you can focus on any emails you didn’t previously have time to answer. This allows you to fully put your attention to a current task and makes you more productive overall.

How to snooze emails

In Mailbird, this very handy feature is called Snooze. You can snooze any email in your inbox by simply right-clicking the email. Choose the date and time when you would like that email to return it to your inbox. You can learn more about the feature in one of our blog posts: Snooze Email.

Inbox Zero


It is clear that constantly attempting to maintain Inbox Zero is a fruitless effort. Really and truly, it isn’t an effective email management method. However, the advice highlighted in this article can help you reach the end goal of the method — more effective email management.

The main takeaways are to focus on the methods that reduce the clutter and always remember to organize. Be happy with your inbox, and breathe a sigh of relief. 

How many times do you reach Inbox Zero, if ever? And how do you do it? Let us know in the comment section below.

Get closer to reaching Inbox Zero with Mailbird.

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FAQs about Inbox Zero

How do I make my Gmail inbox zero?

The first step would be to avoid keeping the tab with your Gmail account open at all times. You’ll see the little number on the tab title indicating how many unread emails you have and be constantly tempted to check it, outside of your scheduled email checking time.
Gmail also has essential tools for maintaining the advice given in this article:

— A quick action bar that appears when you hover over an email allows you to archive, snooze, or delete an email that doesn’t need reading.
— Labels with color indicators organize your emails into folders and subfolders.
— Filters automate the labeling process.
— The handy unsubscribe link at the top of the email window will get rid of unwanted subscriptions.
— The snooze button will schedule some emails for later.

You can also add your Gmail account to Mailbird and get all these features along with integrations that can help you turn task emails into actual tasks with apps such as Asana and Todoist. You’ll be able to direct all conversations that are worth a chat and not an email into a dedicated chat app, such as Slack or Facebook Messenger, and use the chat right beside your inbox. And all this functionality works for multiple accounts simultaneously. Unified inbox zero, how about that?

How do I keep my inbox empty?

If you really, really need that look of an empty inbox, you can achieve it by using the Delete and Archive buttons with every single message that arrives in your inbox.

Groups of messages can also be filtered to delete automatically. For example, in Gmail, you can go to “Advanced search,” type in your query, and click “Create filter.” In the next window that opens, check “Delete it” and “Also apply filter to matching conversations,” and then click on “Create filter.”

How do I manage lots of emails?

There’s no easy answer to this question, but we can suggest a few steps that can improve your email management experience:

— Set aside some time for each step and don’t do everything in one go. It’s too stressful to tidy up an overflowing inbox.
— Remove as many emails as you can from your inbox, especially ones that have been hanging out in your account for ages but don’t add any value to your life or hold any information that could be necessary in the future.
— Create a few categories (folders) for emails you usually get, such as project-specific, travel, and payments. Go through your emails and send each into the category where it belongs.
— If your emails that belong to a specific category all have the same sender address or words in the subject line, filter them and apply a folder in bulk.

Marketing Manager

PR & Media Relations Supporting the team by communicating Mailbird and its great features to existing and potential users and media.

Published on December 30, 2020