Inbox Zero – Organize Your Inbox in 3 Steps

Does your email inbox stress you out?  Mine does, and it’s time for a change. Time for inbox zero.

Inbox zero is just what it sounds like. It is keeping your inbox empty by organizing, archiving or deleting emails.

For your convenience, we have a video and text version of this article.

Arrows to Video and Article


Getting to Inbox Zero

In this post, I’m going to show you how I went from over 1,500 emails to 0 in just 3 steps.

  1. Create folders
  2. Sort emails
  3. Maintain

It took me 7 hours over 2 days to clear out my inbox. Let’s quick do some math. With 1500 email divided by 7 hours we get 214.29.

This means I was able to organize 215 emails per hour. It is important to note sometimes I watched movies while organizing my inbox. I did this because going through all those emails gets annoying.

Now that I’ve accomplished inbox zero, things are a lot easier!

Step 1.  Create Folders

Having a lot of emails is overwhelming, but organizing them is easy and quick.

I already had a system in place for my magic and balloon twisting business. These include folders for emails where I quoted someone a price, one folder for booked shows that need invoices, and a folder for shows that have all their paperwork filled out.

How my “Booking” folder system works.

If a client asks for a price, I respond and put the conversation in the “price quoted” folder. If I need the information later, I can find it quickly.

Once the client agrees to the price, I move the conversation to the “need invoice” folder. I leave it there till I send the invoice and get a confirmation for the event. I check this folder weekly to keep anything from falling through the cracks.

Once all the paperwork is done and confirmed, the conversation is moved into the “scheduled show” folder.  And once I completed the show there’s a folder inside that folder labeled “done” so I can look up old show information.

This process can be used for your own business if it is freelance work or service based.

Main Folders

Create a folder called “001 NOW” for all things that need to be done ASAP and place it at the top of your folder list. I place it at the top of my Gmail by putting “001” in front of the folder’s name. Google organizes folders alphabetically, and 0 (zero) is first.

And then a folder called, “002 SOON” for things that don’t have to be done right away but are important.

The last main folder is called, “003 Someday.” This folder is for are for all things that are not important and can be done anytime.

These folders are based off of  David Allen‘s productivity system in his book Getting Things Done.

Other Folders

The rest of the folders you create will depend on the types of emails you get.

For example, I get a lot of education emails. This includes information related to online business, animation, balloon twisting, and the rest of my interests.

In the folder “Education,” I have subheadings. These subfolders often have folders in themselves

In the “Education” folder I have two subheadings:

  • Courses – This is for any email courses I’m taking.
    ex. I took a “7 days to creating comics” email course. These emails go in a folder called “comics” under “Courses.”.
  • Topics – These are from different people, but all the emails cover the same topics. Each subject has its folder within the “Topics” folder.

Do this quickly. If you forget anything, you can add it later.

Below is a quick snapshot of my folders. Your’s will look different depending on the types of emails you get most.

Inbox Zero Folder Example


Step 2.  Sort Emails

The goal is to keep moving.

When possible, archive several emails at a time.  If you recognize who they’re from or the subject, select them all and put them in a folder or delete them.  Just keep moving and add more folders as you need them.

At one point I was using my phone to organize emails, but it was slower.  With Google, you can cut down your time by using the search button and the ‘move to’ tab.

Make sure to celebrate when you make it to ZERO, it feels good!

Don’t take a vacation yet, we have one more step.

Step 3:  Maintain

One of the first things you need to do is clean out the “Now” folder and start going through the “Soon” folder.

Regularly go through your emails. Schedule time to delete, archive or organize.

It doesn’t have to be every day, but pick a schedule that works and stick to it.

Other Tricks

I am always looking for new tips and tricks to keep email under control. If you have a technique or tool that is working for you, please share it in the comment section for me and others to learn from.

Stick with it and have a creative day.

Jason Love

2 thoughts on “Inbox Zero – Organize Your Inbox in 3 Steps

  1. Cory Peppler says:

    Good stuff, Jason! This is something that plagues most of us, and you’ve given us some great do-able actions to start taming the beast.

    For my freelance work (quotes, follow-ups, schedules, deliverables, etc.) I had some good luck with Streak. It’s a free tool that works with Gmail as a CRM. You can create a workflow and easily move clients/contacts from one stage to the other.

    I suppose you could use if for non-client emails, too, but I think it’s a little overkill at that point. The system you’ve outlined would work much better for general emails.

  2. Compulsive Admin says:

    Glad to hear you enjoyed the article and/or video. keeping my inbox organized is still an issue for me, but I try to do these three steps regularly.

    I have Streak on my Gmail account but don’t know how to use it.
    I take that back, I use the snooze button and send letter function, but know very little about the “pipeline” or the CRM functionality.

    Any suggestions on tutorials? I will have to schedule some time to go through it this weekend.
    My client folder system is helpful, but can be a little cumbersome at times. I would love to see if Streak could fix that for me.

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