How I Keep My Email Inbox Empty

by | Jan 31, 2013


I’ve been asked numerous times how I manage my email.

It’s a compilation of ideas and tips from several sources.  You might read one of these ideas and say, “Hey, that’s Michael Hyatt’s idea” or “the GTD guy says that.”  I’m not claiming credit for any of the individual ideas.

I hope it’s helpful.

My basic set-up.

I have multiple “non” gmail accounts.  I never check them.  Gmail does it for me.

My work emails are provided through 1and1.

This blogs email is provided through Bluehost.

I have two Gmail accounts.

The first Gmail is a private email that I only use to have my 1and1 work mail account automatically checked via POP3.  I never give this Gmail address out, I only give my branded eric @ campaldersgate dot org email address out for work.

The other Gmail is my personal email.

Each of my Gmail accounts have 1 label (or folder) that I created.  It’s called Needs Processed.

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Here’s how I did that….

In Gmail,

Go to Settings

You can use gmail keyboard shortcuts to move around menus


Click on Filters,

How To Get The Most our of Gmail


Click on Create New Filter

In Gmail InBox Filters


Under “To” put your email address. 

 Screen Shot 2013 01 31 at 6 57 43 AM


After you enter your email address, click on Create filter with this search

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Check the option: Apply the label.

Then, select the name of your label in the drop down box.

Click on Create Filter.  I would not have the filter automatically applied to all conversation that match this filter.

Screen Shot 2013 01 31 at 7 17 52 AM


Repeat for all your email address’s that arrive to this gmail account.

Now, the beautiful thing is, your inbox is always empty..BUT WAIT…this isn’t the end.

The benefit to setting up your Gmail to operate like this is you create a distraction free email area.  When I need to send an email, I open Gmail to an empty inbox.  I can hit c and compose a new email.  If I want to check if a reply has arrived, or for an email I’m waiting for.  I search for it.  No distractions from email while working on tasks.


Using keyboard shortcuts, I process the Needs Processed label twice per day.  If you don’t use keyboard shortcuts, that’s okay.  But, turning them on and using them saves a lot of time.  I use the same shortcuts in Reader and my Google Calendar.

On the Gmail main screen.  Click on the label you created, should be under your inbox, for me it’s Needs Processed.

Normally, there are several emails I don’t need to open at that moment nor will they require action from me at anytime.  For example, forms submitted on our website to request information on renting the camp.  I don’t need to reply to any of these normally because my Director of Guest Services does.  HOWEVER, if they’re out for the day…I can provide a reply to someone inquiring about renting facilities quickly.  It’s just good customer service.

For these emails that normally don’t require my attention, but that still need to come to me.  I hit j to move to the first message in the list I don’t need to open, hit x to highlight it, then I continue using j to move down and k to move up to messages that I don’t need to open or deal with and highlighting or un-highlighting using x.  Once I have highlighted these emails, I hit y.  This archives them in All Mail, forever.  Now, a search can find them anytime I need them.

If I have mail that I will never need to open ever.  I highlight them and hit Shift 3 to move the item to the trash.

Within seconds I’ve cleaned out several of my emails.

Now, I start at the top of the list of emails.  I use j or k to move to that email.  Hit x to highlight and hit return to open.

If I can reply in less then 2 minutes or take other action to address the email in less then 2 minutes, I do.

If I can’t take immediate action.  I do one of two things.

If I can/should deal with it that day, I write it on my task list.

If I can deal with it another day, I calendar it. Under More (just above the email) I select; Create Event.  You will need a google calendar for this.  I schedule the email as a meeting on my calendar.  I might schedule it for tomorrow or next week.  Just depends on when I need to get to it.  After I deal with it, I archive the email to All Mail.  Again, don’t worry…a quick search and you will find it.  But, on the event on my calendar, is the text of the email for access there.

I do this with every email, in order, no exceptions.  Don’t skip an email and leave it in Needs Processed.

After less then 10 minutes every email is processed.  I have an empty inbox and Needs Processed label.  Nothing is getting missed or following through the cracks.  And, I’m not wasting time re-reading the same subject lines over and over.

Well, I hope this helps.

I’m always looking to improve my system.  If you have alterations, please let me know.

I’d love to hear what your think down in the comments.