Inbox Nirvana: Reaching & Maintaining A Clean Inbox

A minimalist approach to cleaning & organizing your Gmail inbox.
June 24, 2020

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  1. A numbered list
  2. Number two
  3. And three
  • Orange
  • Banana
  • Apple

And an embed:

“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.”

– Merlin Mann

Why do this? 

If you already have frustration with your inbox, this will help.

If not, but you're curious, there are three benefits.

You brain no longer lingers, 10% of it occupied to the happenings in your inbox. It takes less than a second to find things when you need them. And you can get through new messages in a matter of minutes, if at all.

The Workflow

The Solution

A workflow that does three things: 

Keeps your inbox empty

Keeps emails you need organized and accessible

A clean inbox consists of two things - emptiness, and easy access to any messages you still need.

For any given email, you have three choices:

  1. Handle it
  2. Store it
  3. Delete it

We'll end here. All emails snugly tucked into their own labels on the left, ready for the day you decide to give them your attention.

Okay, let's work through an example on how to get there.

I sign up for newsletters all the time, intrigued by some path to land in this persons journey. But I certainly don't read them as they come. I pretend they're my Sunday morning paper, or when I've clocked my daily TikTok binge.

Here's the labeling process, from start to finish:

  1. Select emails you want to banish to labels
  2. Click the overflow menu, and "filter messages like these":
  3. Click Create (note: GMAIL will search by sender - this is almost always fine. You can add more specific filters if needed.)
  4. Create a new label. For this example, I create "James Clear", and nest it under my existing "Digests" label. You'll quickly find what works for you. Some of my most used labels are:
  5. ~"Finances" - for xx
  6. Check "skip the inbox" and "apply to other matching conversations". For newsletters, I prefer to clear them right out of the inbox, but leave them unread so I can see how many I have to catch up on. For example, I haven't been giving my friend James the attention he probably deserves.

Boom. That's it.

James Clements is a rapper posing as a techie artsy NYC hipster chauchski. Say hi @jamesvclements.