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How I Keep my Email at Inbox Zero

One of the tenants of the No Spend Month my wife and I are doing is decluttering. We’re going through all of our stuff and donating what we don’t need. We’ve already gotten rid of bags of clothes, hundreds of DVDs, lots of books, and toys.

See, those who knew me growing up might be shocked by this, but I hate clutter. If I have a lot of stuff around me I can’t focus. The same thing goes for my digital space. Too many notifications, badges, and messages gives be agita; so I try to keep my devices clean. I have no badges turn on except missed calls and overdue tasks. Very few apps have notifications. I have a focus mode where only my wife can send notifications to my phone.

And I keep my email at near inbox zero at all times. Here’s how.

It’s All About Having a Process

Back in December I wrote a post about managing the deluge of email you get over the holidays. Ultimately, keeping your inbox at inbox zero will be about you and the process you have in place. These are simply the tools that work best for me, and the process I have in place.

My Email App of Choice: Spark

I, like most people, have gone on a long sojourn to find the right email app, and they all pretty much stink. The good ones get killed off and cannibalized. So I tried Apple Mail for a while because of the support for Apple Script. With Apple Script, I could use some pretty cool Text Expander snippets to grab the recipient’s first name and more.

But ultimately I keep finding my way back to Spark. It’s pretty, it works super well (especially with Google email services), and it’s cross platform. I’ve created some custom smart folders that show me what I want when I want, and each address is color coded, making it easy to know what’s work and what’s personal.

It also has snooze, reminder, and send later features.

But an app is only part of the battle.

SaneBox is Clutch

I’ve written about SaneBox in the past, but I can’t stress enough how important this is to my workflow.

SaneBox automatically sorts my email so only the most important messages hit my inbox. It learns based on my usage, and I can create my own folders. For example, I have one called @SaneMoney for all online orders and one called @SaneCalendar for all calendar invites.

SaneBox also allows for reminders. You forward email to number.time-period@sanebox.com. So for example if I wanted an email to come back to my inbox in 5 weeks, I’d forward it to 5.weeks@sanebox.com.

Finally, you can completely pause your inbox, meaning SaneBox will make sure you don’t see any email for the determined about of time.

Feedbin for Newsletters

Part of keeping my inbox tidy is making sure the newsletters don’t clutter it up. SaneBox can handle this, and usually does out of the box with the @SaneNews folder.

But I wanted my newsletters to be someplace where I’d actually read them. Enter: Feedbin.

Feedbin is an RSS service for $5/mo. But the real reason I signed up for it is the custom feed email address you get. Now when I subscribe to newsletters, I use the Feedbin address — that means every newsletter I sign up for goes right to my RSS reader and never touches my inbox.

Todoist for Tasks

Another reason I keep going to Spark is the great integration with other apps, including a wide range of task managers. This was true when I was using Omnifocus, and remains true since I switched to Todoist.

In Spark, I can swipe to the right to have email added to my task list. This can either be the full text of the email, or a smart link to the email in Spark. SO good!

This allows me to process even emails that need my response, and puts them in one of the few places where I allow notifications (more on that in a second).

Fast Processing

Another key to a tidy inbox is being able to process it quickly. With the tools above, I’ve done everything I can to make sure only emails I need to respond to hit my inbox. From there, I can process it quickly in a 2 ways:

  1. Spark supports customizable swiping actions, so I have archive, reply, snooze, and add to Todoist
  2. Text Expander snippets, which are excellent. My most common replies can be fully typed with just a few keystrokes

Smart Folders and NO Email Notifications

The last thing I want to mention is that I have no email notifications turn on with any of my devices. While that prevents interrupting me in real time, I still have a small compulsion to check my email every so often. That’s a different habit I need to break, but in the mean time I have a smart folder in Spark called “Unread.” It shows me only unread emails from specific folders, and I hide everything else besides my inbox.

That means I see only the emails I want to see.

How are You Managing Your Inbox?

So there you have it –everything I’m doing to manage my inbox. As I write this, I’m at inbox zero, and have been for most of the day.

While that’s not necessarily a badge of honor for people (and it shouldn’t have to be), it’s proof that my process works…which is the important part.

How are you managing your inbox? Any tips you want to share? Let me know in the comments!

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