4 min read

Inbox Zero, Right Now.

My favorite new year’s tradition.
Inbox Zero, Right Now.
Photo by Solen Feyissa / Unsplash

Want to guarantee your year will be better in about 30 seconds? Here's how you can achieve the mythical Inbox Zero today and get 2023 started on the right foot:

Step 1: Go to your Inbox and select ALL of the emails in your inbox. (Click the square in the upper left and make sure you hit the 'Select all X conversations' option.)

To get this screenshot, I logged into a secondary account that forwards to my primary one. 34K emails, woof.

Step 2: Hit the plus sign next to "Labels" (on the left-hand bar) and name that label “PRE-2023”

Note: These instructions are for Gmail. But I'm sure there's some equivalent for Outlook or iCloud or Yahoo or whatever you're using. If you're on Superhuman, you probably don't need this, you power user, you.

Step 3: Hit “Archive”!

Boom! You’re at inbox zero! Congrats! 🥳

Seem too easy? Feel like that’s cheating? It’s not. It turns out that one of the best ways to maintain Inbox Zero is to start with Inbox Zero. This allows you to use inertia to your advantage: We often tend to maintain the status quo. If you've got a messy, overflowing inbox, it doesn't matter if a few more pile up. But if you have a pristine, empty inbox, you'll feel more motivated to keep it that way.

Still not convinced? Allow me to rebut some of your potential objections:

"But I NEED those emails! There's a reason I kept them in my inbox."

Don't worry! You can still access and process these emails (if you want to). Are there still things you need to reply to or deal with? Just go over to the “PRE-2023” label and deal with it. You can do the equivalent of archiving by removing the label.

But let me also ask you a question: Is the reason you "need" those emails in your inbox because that's how you remember who you need to reply to? If that's the case: Stop using your inbox as a to-do list! I wrote a whole separate piece about this (here), but the point is: keeping stuff in your inbox so that you’ll remember to deal with it is not an effective system. Instead, write down whatever you need to do somewhere else and archive the emails. This allows you to be intentional about prioritizing your list, instead of just dealing with whatever’s at the top of your inbox.

"Ah, what's the use? They'll just pile up again."

Maybe you're super popular and lots of real people email you all the time... but if you're like me, most of the email I get is marketing email, which isn't technically spam, but I mostly don't want to read it. Take two steps, here:

  1. Regularly unsubscribe from stuff you don’t want. Take 15 seconds to scroll down to the bottom of those emails you get that you don't actually want (from the store you bought one gift from 4 years ago, or from that restaurant where you ordered take-out online one time, or from Linkedin) and click the link, so you don't have to scroll past them in your inbox in the future.
  2. Enable Gmail’s Categories as smart filters. If you don't see headers like Primary and Promotions or Social at the top of your inbox, check out Google's help article to get yours set up. This keeps the stuff you care about in the Primary section and makes everything else easier to find / archive in bulk.
  3. Use the Snooze. Or schedule replies. If you insist on ignoring my above point and using your inbox as a to-do list, the Snooze function can help to remind you to come back to an email at some point in the future. But if your reason for snoozing is "I'm reading this late at night and I don't want to reply to my client at 1am," just write up your reply and use the scheduled send feature!
  4. Repeat, as needed! Okay, total transparency, here: I’m not good at maintaining inbox zero consistently. But I will say that I never miss the stuff that’s in those PRE-XXXX labels. And I have to write way fewer "Sorry I'm replying several days late, I just didn't see your message because I hate opening my personal email" apologies. So I do this inbox reset every few years and I love it! I hope you will, too.

Have a different objection? Email me and let me know—with a fresh new PRE-2023 label of my own, you know I'll see it!

Otherwise, congrats on Inbox Zero, and I hope you have a wonderful 2023!