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This Spring, Clean Up Your Inbox

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 20, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Hey, world: Clean out your inbox!

I subscribe to, and routinely evangelize about, Merlin Mann's "Inbox Zero" technique of email filing. It's a simple way of organizing your email that results in fewer headaches. Basically, if you can't get something done in two minutes, file it for later. Once you read an email and there's no further action to be taken, delete it or archive it. Then use the time you save to look smugly down at all those people who use their Inbox to store all their emails.

Your Inbox Is Not a Trash Heap

Think about it. Your inbox is like your desk. Do you keep all of your documents on your desk? Of course not; you have shelves and file cabinets for things that you don't need immediately. While email, being an electronic metaphor, isn't amenable to comparisons based on physical space, there's certainly some psychology going on.

Looking at an inbox full of stuff can be confusing and stressful. Why does that stuff even have to be there? Steve Jobs' protestations notwithstanding, folders are your friend. Every email program supports creating folders and filing messages away in them. More modern programs even support "tagging," which is basically a virtual virtual folder, except that a message can have more than one tag but can't be in more than one folder.

Your goal using the Inbox Zero method is to have your inbox clear of messages at all times. That's not really feasible, of course, but the Inbox Zero philosophy is aspirational: Try your best to reach that unreachable star.

How Do I Start?

Well, given that we're in spring cleaning season, you start by cleaning out your inbox. Depending on your email program, that could be easier said than done. With Gmail, you have a lot of batch processing options using Gmail's filters. That way, you can automatically delete all those ABA Journal emails (or archive them for later, because they're really important) or move all the emails from a particular client into that client's folder. With other programs, you'll have to manually move things around, just like you're cleaning your office.

Next, you'll need to train yourself to alter the way you interact with email. No more reading something and leaving it there. No! Once you read something, it gets archived (or deleted). With Gmail, you can set up multiple inboxes; for example, you could have an inbox for urgent tasks (things you can complete in two minutes) or more long-term tasks (things that will take longer, but you don't want to file them somewhere because they're not done and you'll forget about them).

Start the spring off right by cleaning up your inbox. You'll be surprised how much more organized you feel not having the virtual equivalent of all your files dumped in a pile in the middle of your office.

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