How to effectively achieve inbox zero

I get a lot of email. And I have a lot of email accounts. For years I tried to best decipher how to manage the emails and achieve inbox zero. For some, emails clogging the inbox can be stressful. For others, that’s the only place they keep emails (the madness!). You generally fall into one of those two camps. I once knew a guy who had 25,000 emails in his inbox. I about died.

But if you want to have a clean inbox and truly achieve inbox zero, then I have a custom-created system that works each and every time – and quickly. People are often fascinated that I have such a clean inbox. Here is how you truly achieve inbox zero.

Step 1. Open email and don’t dilly dally

The first step is to log in and get to work. If you have 20 or more emails, here is how you narrow that down very quickly. First, highlight all the emails in your inbox (just click Control + A to highlight them). Then click ‘mark as read’. That way, the dreaded, bold ‘unread’ notification won’t take your eye off the prize and pull your attention. So you now have twenty emails marked as read and highlighted.

Next scan with your eyes from the first email to the last. If an email is important and may need some action, press the Option key (on Mac) or the Command button (on PC) and click on the message. That will make that message non-highlighted. Now archive the list of remaining emails. They’re out of sight, but still around if you ever need to search them. You should now have about 1-5 emails left in your inbox.

Bonus Tip: In this day and age, the ‘Archive’ button has become way more popular due to more online storage. So archive everything. You don’t need to delete anything, really. Then every 6 months to a year, go in and clear out your archive (if you’re super anal about space). If not, just archive everything. You’ll be happy if you need to search for an email.

How to achieve inbox zero
The goal is to set yourself up for success with folders and be consistent in using them.

Step 2. Use a folder system

If you don’t use folders, start using them. That ensures you have a place for your emails and they don’t just stack up in a ‘Save’ folder or worse, the Inbox. Don’t be that guy/gal. Now, the folders you want to create are totally up to you. If you run a business and have a lot of clients, create a folder for each client. If they leave, you can keep them in an ‘Archive folder’ for those old clients. It’s a dream.

If you work for a company as I do with TV News, have some obvious ones.  I have Contacts, Events, Important, Stories, Company Docs, etc. If you just have personal email, go with something like Important, Family, Friends, Vehicles, Home, etc. Some advice says to base these on time. I don’t do that. That’s their system, not mine – but it probably works well for some.

Once you’ve set up these folders, look at the 5 remaining emails you have. If you have an event coming up and nothing is pressing, move to Events. If you have a receipt from the bank for a house payment, move to House. If you have a long-lost friend reach out, move to Friends because you want to keep the email since you’ve been chatting back and forth. So now you have whittled your email down to 2-3 pressing emails.

Important note: Only move these to their respective folders if they don’t need any pressing action. You will likely forget once they are ‘out of sight, out of mind.

Achieve inbox zero

Step 3. The magic ‘Active’ folder

This is where the magic happens. I create folder called ACTIVE. And I also add a symbol before it so it’s at the top of the folder list. So for instance, title it: – ACTIVE ——>

The dash makes it appear at the top. The CAPS make it obvious to the eye and the arrow is an OCD move to know where the top of the folder tree starts. This works in Gmail, Outlook, or any other platform you may use for email.

This folder is reserved for any email that needs attention. Maybe you need to reply about dinner plans. Drop it in Active. Maybe you need to respond about the leak in the kitchen. Active. Maybe a client needs a website update. Active. Because it’s simply what it is – it’s an active email that needs attention. But you likely don’t have time (or desire) to deal with it that moment.

So you move all remaining emails to the active folder. Viola. Your quest to achieve inbox zero has succeeded. You have zero emails in your inbox. And you simply repeat this process each time you check email. And when you find you have a few minutes – jump in that active folder and tackle 1-2 emails.

When you clean out the Active folder, you are truly on top of the world. And you’ll be surprised how much stress you relieve from an empty inbox.

You’ll find after using this system you are much more organized, can find nearly any email when you need it and never get stressed about the clutter in your inbox. Clutter causes stress. It’s a proven fact (somewhere). So just like Marie Kondo doles out her ‘Konmari Closet Method’ to de-stress your life by way of a clean closet, perhaps this BenJosh Email Method can work for you.

Let me know if you give it a try and let me know your experience in the comments below.

Subscribe to receive inspiration, news, and ideas in your inbox.

About the author

Josh Benson

Add comment

Josh Benson


Let’s Connect!