Getting to inbox zero feels like you’ve won the world. It makes checking your email a straight forward task instead of going down the rabbit hole of replies and links and conversation threads. Part of getting to inbox zero is setting up a couple folders and then applying rules so that email can be sorted directly into those folders. Limit your folders to 5 or less, otherwise you will just be clicking through folders, and it will be harder to see the scope of what you need to take care of (and what can wait). I use Gmail exclusively, but I’m sure you could apply this strategy to any email service. These aren’t groundbreaking-ly new ideas, just my current set-up for keeping my inbox clean. This is also a better strategy for your personal email. You could probably tweak this strategy for business, though.
These are my folders:
**To-Do** – I move messages into this folder manually as opposed to assigning rules to messages because this is my overarching email to-do list. I move any message into this folder that will require longer than 2 minutes to address. I usually then try to address this folder first thing in the morning and have it clear to add any new messages during the day. Because I do this everyday, the number of messages in this folder doesn’t tend to get much higher than 10 to 15. Obviously, you may have a lot more if you are getting hundreds of emails every day. Did you notice the asterisks (**)? I added those to pin that folder at the top of the list since Gmail sorts the folders alphabetically.
*Course* The next folder varies by whatever I’m involved in at the moment that I want to keep emails accessible and together. I am taking a couple of courses so this second folder has become my *Courses* folder. I used the asterisks trick again to pin this folder directly under my **To-Do** folder.
Longterm – This folder contains messages that will need my attention at some point but not soon enough to put them in my **To-Do** folder. I have a zap (Have you tried Zapier? You should!) set up that automatically creates a card in an Emails to Remember list in Trello whenever I star a message. I am then able to create a due date for that card in Trello that will remind me when I need to address that email. This helps me to keep from losing emails that I don’t need for weeks or months.
Order Tracking – The sole purpose of this folder is to keep tracking information for purchases in one spot. Once I receive the item, I archive or trash the message.
Reference – Some emails don’t fit into any of the above categories, but I just want to be able to find them quickly and easily. Maybe it’s a book I want to check out or a recipe I’m going to make soon. This folder allows me to do this.
Everybody has a different strategy for tackling email. And it definitely takes some time and experimentation to find the system that works best for you. This type of organization coupled with a few other strategies will have you getting to and maintaining inbox zero in no time!
Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips for using folders in Gmail!