Is Inbox Zero a Fantasy, or is it Really Possible?

Learn how the Inbox Zero productivity method helps you declutter your inbox and destress your work life.

Some people think of the Inbox Zero concept as a fantasy. They can’t imagine that anyone could keep their inbox down to zero messages and emails every day, especially not with the number of emails they get.

Yet, we’ve achieved Inbox Zero several times over the past few years (and we’re still at it). So we know it’s possible. The question is: How do we get there? If you’re wondering how to get your inbox down to zero messages every day, we have a few tips for you.

Let’s look at what Inbox Zero is and why you might want to try it for yourself. Then we’ll look at how you can achieve this seemingly impossible feat through some simple strategies and minor changes in your habits.

The Basics of Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is a term that refers to the state of having an empty inbox, where all emails have been read, replied to, or otherwise dealt with. It’s also a bit of a misnomer. While there may not be important emails sitting in your inbox, they’re still tucked away in folders. You’ll still need to deal with them at some point.

Inbox Zero has become a popular concept in the productivity and time-management world. Many claim that achieving an empty inbox is the key to reducing stress, increasing efficiency, and improving overall work performance.

Does Inbox Zero Really Work?

Inbox Zero is more than having an inbox with no email. It is a productivity philosophy and a way of managing your messages. It’s not about deleting everything, but rather keeping only the emails that are important and actionable.

Inbox Zero is not a fantasy, but it’s also not something that can be achieved overnight. It may take a bit of trial and error to determine what systems and habits best support your workflow.

One of the major benefits of integrating Inbox Zero into your workflow is that it can provide a sense of accomplishment and organization. Having an empty inbox can give people a feeling of control over their workload and can help them stay on top of important tasks. It can make it easier to locate and respond to urgent messages, which can improve communication and collaboration. Finally, achieving Inbox Zero can reduce the amount of clutter and distraction in one’s digital workspace, which can help improve focus and concentration.

The decision to chase Inbox Zero is personal. You’ll have to choose whether it’s the right approach for you. To give you a clearer picture, let’s look at what it takes to get there.

How to Get Started with Inbox Zero

We understand that the pursuit of Inbox Zero can be overwhelming and daunting for many people. However, with the right strategies and mindset, it is very possible to make progress toward achieving an empty inbox. Here are some steps to get started with Inbox Zero:

  1. Set a goal: The first step towards achieving this is to set a specific goal for what it means to you. For some, Inbox Zero may mean having no unread messages, while for others it may mean having no messages in their inbox at all. Decide what your goal is and make it clear.
  2. Prioritize: Not all emails are created equal, so it’s important to prioritize them. Start by identifying the most important messages, such as those from your boss or urgent requests. Respond to these messages first and then move on to less important ones.
  3. Create a system: In order to achieve Inbox Zero, it’s important to have a system in place for managing your emails. Create folders or labels for different emails, such as newsletters or work-related messages. This will make it easier to locate and prioritize messages as they come in.
  4. Unsubscribe: One of the biggest contributors to email overload is subscription emails. Take the time to unsubscribe from any newsletters or mailing lists that you no longer find useful or relevant.
  5. Use Rules and Filters: Rules and Filters can be a helpful tool for automatically sorting incoming emails into specific folders or labels. With Fastmail, you can create Rules or Filters that organize your emails as you receive them. Messages from specific senders or certain keywords will be automatically added to your customized folders.
  6. Schedule email time: Constantly checking your email throughout the day can be a major distraction and productivity killer. Instead, schedule specific times throughout the day to check and respond to emails, such as once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once before you finish work. Fastmail also has VIP notifications, so that you can prioritize who you would like to receive pings from.
  7. Archive or delete: Not all emails require a response or need to be kept. Archive or delete messages that do not require any further action or reference.

The Pitfalls of Inbox Zero

The most common argument against the practice comes from people whose definition of Inbox Zero is either too literal or too lax. They consider filters and folders as delayed actions, rather than a method of organization. While others only consider an inbox empty if all messages are handled and then deleted.

Inbox Zero may not be the right method for everyone. Some people work better when they use their inbox as a task list, a place for reminders, or a method of organization. For many people, especially in a corporate environment, emails are a constant stream. Taking the time to deal with them in real time removes the ability to focus on other, more pressing tasks. We’re fans of the method, but it’s worth noting how things can go wrong.

  1. False Urgency: For some people, Inbox Zero creates a false sense of urgency. They see an email come in and they feel like they have to deal with it immediately in order to maintain an empty inbox. This takes them away from their other tasks. This can take up to 15 minutes for their brain to reset when going back to the original task.
  2. Undue Pressure: Akin to the false sense of urgency, that same “panic mode” can come into play when you see your beautifully curated inbox full of messy emails. People will sometimes feel pressure to clean things up, once again taking them off task. For others, they may feel like the system is never “done,” always requiring work and input.
  3. Focus Problems: When you’re trying to focus on too many things at once, none of them get done well. When you feel the need to bounce back and forth between your email and whatever task is at hand, you’re not efficiently managing either of them.

Inbox Zero Isn’t The Only Way to Email

Inbox Zero is great, but it may not be as manageable for every inbox. Maybe you receive emails from new people daily that are difficult to predict and categorize. Perhaps you don’t mind keeping all of your messages in one inbox and simply utilizing the search bar to find what you’re looking for. Some people delete messages when they’re done, others still have the first email they ever received at the bottom of their message list. What kind of email user are you? Find out here and try out some Fastmail features that complement your inbox.

No matter how you email, Fastmail makes it easy to customize a workflow that allows you to reclaim your time and organize your inbox how you see fit. There are so many productivity and organizational features that you can use to upgrade your email experience.

Use Your Tools to Reach Inbox Zero

There are lots of great options out there for dealing with email. In fact, Fastmail users can save time by having their email, calendars, and contacts all in one. You can use rules, Snooze messages, categorize them with Labels, and even color code them. Scheduling times for messages to send can also cut down on inbox clutter.

Use the Tiny Habits method to create routine behaviors that promote your less stressful, Inbox Zero lifestyle. The creator of the Tiny Habits method, BJ Fogg, explained how making very day small changes can make a big difference on the Digital Citizen Podcast. Listen here to learn more!

If you’re not a Fastmail user (and if not, why not? It’s free to get started) then take a look around at your current email client of choice. Chances are good that there are tools to help you. You’re just not using them. Of course, you can also use email add-ons like SaneBox to help you get the job done as well.

Welcome to Productivity

If you’re the type of person who is looking to upgrade their email and declutter their inbox, then the Inbox Zero method is just what you’ve been looking for. It will help you feel more organized and in control of your life. By taking the time to clear your inbox, you’ll have more opportunities to get things done. You can spend more time doing what’s important, rather than spending hours each week trying to keep up with email.

The key to maintaining an empty inbox is to be willing to experiment with various organizational tools and find a routine that works best for you.

Think of Inbox Zero not only as a method for improving your email health but also as a greater way of being more productive in all of your work habits.


Try these tips and let us know if Inbox Zero works for you. Make email yours with Fastmail. Join now free for 30 days!

Author Bio:

Thomas Yuan is a dot connector, a creator of value, and a dedicated player-coach. His passion for creative and collaborative growth helps him to find new opportunities for growth. He serves as the Head of Partnerships for SaneBox, the email management solution for any inbox.

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