6 Tips and Tricks for How I Stay at Inbox Zero

Recently, I’ve gotten pretty good about keeping my inbox down to zero. I found that, for me, it takes a pinch of discipline and a couple of good tools. I figured I’d share my tips in case anyone else found them handy.

2 minute rule with Boomerang/Mailbox

For almost 2 years now, I’ve used the Boomerang plugin for Gmail and that plugin has been a game-changer. Boomerang does 3 things that I find really useful:

  • It allows you to “boomerang” a message until later. That it, it moves the message out of your inbox and returns it there at a designated time, tomorrow morning, two days from now, on the weekend, next week, or whenever you specific.
  • It allows you to send a message, and then boomerangs your message back into your inbox if you haven’t gotten a response after a certain time interval. So I don’t have remember to follow up with someone.
  • It allows me to schedule email messages.

I use Boomerang in conjunction with the “2-minute” rule. When an email comes in, if I can answer it in less than 2 minutes, I do it right away. If it will take longer, I’ll boomerang the message to a later time, either later in the evening, the next day, or the weekend, depending on the urgency.

To aid in this, Boomerang has an intelligent feature that looks for dates in the message. So if the message says, “RSVP by 10/15/2014” Boomerang will automatically suggest that (or a week before that date) to return the message to my inbox, which saves me a step.

When I’m working on my iPhone, I manage my email using an app called Mailbox, which has much of the same functionality as Boomerang, but is conveniently available on the phone, so I can manage my inbox the same way there.

Gmail canned responses

I’ve been able to reply to a lot more message in under 2 minutes by taking advantage of Gmail’s “Canned Response” feature. This feature allows you to write canned responses that you can quickly insert into email messages. I’d say that about 10% of the email I send are canned responses. By far the two most common are inquiries for people wanting to do guest posts on my blog, or advertise on my blog.

For these, all I have to do is select the appropriate canned response template in Gmail and click send.

Canned Responses

TextExpander expansions

I am a big fan of TextExpander and I use it all over the place. (On Windows, I use a similar tool called Phrase Express.) TextExpander allows you to create shortcuts to text snippets and other things. This can be formatted text, and can include some cool functionality like inserting dates, and other things.

For email, I tend to you TextExpander to speed up replies, and to prevent myself from having to lookup information. For instance, if I am referring someone to a common link on my website (say, my Going Paperless posts), rather than having to remember the link and type it in (and worry about making a typo) all I do is type

xpaperless

which automatically turns into

http://www.jamierubin.net/going-paperless/

I can never remember my home phone number, so if I’m sending that via email I have a shortcut for that. I have shortcuts for all kinds of common information like my address, or website, or bibliography page. I usually create a shortcut that links to the most recent article I’ve published.

All of these speed up the process of replying to email, and help make it possible to respond in under 2 minutes.

Turn off social media notifications

One thing I did that helped a lot was to turn off all social media email notifications. Rather than have that information pushed to me via email, I pull it when I need it by checking Twitter or Facebook periodically. This eliminated a ton of email from my inbox, and for each message, eliminated the step of having to delete the email.

Filter receipts and confirmations

I make heavy use to Gmail’s filtering to deal with a lot of email. Regular bill notification and automatic payment notifications are automatically filtered without ever going into my inbox.

Receipts and confirmation emails are also filtered without ever seeing my inbox. For these, I go one step further and have them sent to my Evernote email account so that I have the receipt and confirmations in Evernote. This is automated, so not only do these messages not clutter my email inbox, but they also get into Evernote automatically.

Unsubscribing

I’ve become a big unsubscriber lately, and while it took a while for me to see the overall result, I can see now that it prevents a lot of email that would go unread or get deleted from ever coming into my inbox.


Do you tips for how you stay at inbox zero? Leave them in the comments.

9 thoughts on “6 Tips and Tricks for How I Stay at Inbox Zero

  1. Great article. I have gained speed in clearing out mails with:

    1. Keyboard shortcuts in Gmail.
    Turning on shortcuts and tweaking a few can be a big timesaver. Single-key shortcuts are the best. I changed the default “delete” shortcut to a single-key shortcut, using the semicolon. It’s easy to keep hitting it and plow through unwanted things. Learning how to skillfully use the j, k, x, and e in your Gmail is one of the best things you can do.

    2. Evernote Clipping in Gmail.
    Actionable mails should be clipped to Evernote and then archived whenever possible. This helps reduce the anxiety of a stuffed Inbox, and then you can work out of a notebook, attach date reminders to that email and so on.

    3. Use the “d” key in Gmail to avoid distraction.
    I learned only recently that “d” opens a new compose window – but in a new tab, by itself. This allows for better focus because you won’t see other things continuing to pop into your Inbox, as you might in a corner or pop out compose window.

  2. Great post, as usual!

    My 2 comments:
    Canned emails: I switched to Alfred snippets and it works better for me.

    Pros: 1) No need to use the mouse, 2) easy to search for content (so you can have many more without having to scroll a lot of canned emails), 3) option of using basic strings {date}, {clipboard} etc.

    Cons: 1) only plain text, 2) will not work on mobile… So I was wondering if it would make sense to switch to TextExpander for canned emails. This would allow rich text and images, however I would need to remember a trigger for each canned email… Or perhaps an Alfred workflow combining a hotkey with TextExpander can get the best of both worlds (search and rich text)?

    Also, I like this script for snoozing: combined with keyboard shortcuts, it is much faster than Boomerang for me: ‘v3’ snoozes for 3 days, ‘v10’ ten etc.

  3. Jamie, I understand that you use GMail, but is it always directly, or do you use it also through a client application, like Mail from Apple?

    Have you already had the opportunity to test other applications than Mail?

  4. Michel, on my laptop and desktop machines (Mac and Windows) I use Gmail in the browser (Chrome). I’ve always done this. I think over time I’ve taken a preference to web-based tools over thick clients. Plus it makes it much easier to use Gmail plugins like Boomerang. On the iPhone, I use the Mailbox app because it has similar features to Boomerang.

  5. Thank you! I’ve always been using Mail, but maybe I should also consider the advantages of “direct” Gmail.
    Cheers!

  6. Great tips! Love reading your paperless posts. Another great resource for clean inboxes is UnRollMe.com which scans your gmail inbox and can unsubscribe you from mailing lists, and the ones you want to keep, combines them into one daily email that you can read at your leisure.

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