Get to Inbox Zero, Even If You’re Terrible at Email
How to tame the most terrifyingly messy inbox
I was never a neat person, a fact that’s been made abundantly clear to me by the half-dozen or so people who have shared a space with me over the years. But recently, some combination of moving into my first solo apartment and aspiring to be the kind of person who could invite a friend over for a glass of wine on a whim (without having to first ask them to wait on my stoop for five minutes while I threw things into my closet) has helped me get my once-slovenly ways in order. My bed is made most days. Clothes go in drawers at night. I freaking dust.
My email inbox, however, is still cobweb city. Despite my best efforts, nothing about my newer, cleaner lifestyle has ever translated to my online organizational habits — which means that as of this writing, I currently have 36,747 emails sitting unread in my personal Gmail. And this figure doesn’t even include the many more in my work email, or the (shudders) AOL account I’ve had since middle school. Knowing I had tried and failed in past attempts to get my email under control, I consulted two professionals — sociologist Anna Akbari, author of Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way to Happiness, and Harris Stratyner, a media psychologist who has meticulous email habits — to help guide me on the long journey to Inbox Zero. Here are the steps, based on their advice, that got me there.
“Taking a moment to do a comprehensive personal analysis of your habits and needs, will create some much-needed mental clarity.”
Go back in time
To start, Stratyner recommended I get my emails in shape by sorting them in reverse chronological order. “It’s probably safe to assume if you haven’t had any negative repercussions” to not answering those, “you can just delete,” he said. (On Gmail, you can do this by clicking where it says “1–50 of your ungodly number of emails” at the top of your inbox and selecting “oldest” from the drop-down menu.) My oldest unread emails are from March 2016, the last time I made an Inbox Zero attempt. I marked, as read, everything from 2016, 2017, and all 2018 dated before November 1. (Type your cutoff date in…