The Electric Educator: InBox Zero in Gmail

Monday, January 2, 2012

InBox Zero in Gmail

It's January second and all across American people are starting their New Year's resolutions. The gyms are packed, the cupboards are empty of junk food, and storage bins are on sale in all the big box stores!

If getting organized is one of your resolutions, let me give you a hand.

A year ago I began implementing the concept of "Inbox Zero." This concept is proposed by productivity blogger and expert Merlin Mann. He was even invited by Google to come and share his ideas with Googlers at the Googlplex in Mountain View, California. If you haven't watched the video, I would recommend it.

The basic premise of Inbox Zero is as follows:

Each morning, millions of people open up their email to figure out what they need to do today. This is a grave mistake as urgen (but not important) things typically fill up our inboxes. You need to prioritize. You need a plan. Don't be a slave to your inbox!

When an email comes in, it needs to be processed. There are many ways you can process your email. The fewer options you have, the better. I have three options:

  1. Archive
  2. Add to calendar
  3. Add to task list
Gmail makes this very simple to do. Here's how


  1. How very GTD of you. I can't emphasize enough how important it has been for me over the last 3 years to implement some of the larger principles of GTD (though not all of it), principally the concept of processing all my inboxes to zero every time I go to them. It certainly takes some discipline to 1) not do the really easy "wins" that do take more than a few minutes right away instead of continuing to process the inbox and 2) not to leave things in the inbox to deal with later. But, it's definitely worthwhile.

    It also gives you the freedom to determine when and how you want to deal with your various inboxes. I don't do this yet, but am considering moving toward just processing my email inbox 2 times per day (before lunch and at the end of the day).

    I use Remember The Milk as my task manager. While its integration with Gmail isn't quite as good as Google Task's integration, it does offer a tool which allows you to forward an email to your RTM account, making the subject of the email the description of the task (and you can included due dates, repetition information, and other tags for context, location, etc) and the body of the email turns into 1 or more notes associated with the Task.

    good stuff.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Mike. GTD and Inbox Zero require a lot of discipline. I also find myself spending too much time answering email. I need to remember that I don't have to answer an email immediately after it comes in. I am fighting against "the tyranny of the urgent."

    Thanks for being a reader.

  3. Great post John! I'm one of those people that felt that since I had a Gmail account I could just keep everything. The problem is I wasn't processing a lot of the mail. I assumed messages held no interest for me. After reading this I processed everything for the past few months and then archived everything else. Arrived at work today and put the Zero Inbox Method into practice and man has it changed how I do things. I have even added it to the schedule for our Tech Tuesday's that we do for the staff. Thanks!

  4. Randy Pausch presented this strategy in his presentation on Time Management (11/07)

  5. Great post. I might just have to try this.


Thanks for contributing to my blog. I enjoy being a part of the conversation and do my best to respond to comments and questions that are posted.