Articles & Tools: Mens Sana

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Keeping an empty inbox

I'm a huge fan of simplicity, freedom and getting things done -- my productivity plummets when I feel disorganized or have too much on my plate to decide what to do next. So I've embraced the empty inbox, turning Gmail into my ultimate to-do list and making my days more focused and productive.

The concept: everything in my inbox is an item that requires my immediate action. A question from a client, a bill that needs to get paid, and so on. As soon as I respond to it, it goes into my Gmail archive. As I take care of each item, my inbox dwindles, and before I know it Gmail is a thing of beauty: "No new mail!" It's simple, refreshing, and encourages me to address everything on my list -- if something's cluttering my inbox on a Friday, I might as well get rid of it so I can be a free man for the weekend.

Want to give it a try? Here's how to dive in:

  1. Archive everything. I know this seems like jumping off a cliff to some of us -- I had hundreds of e-mails in my inbox when I took the leap. Just close your eyes, select all and click "Archive." It's all still there for you, just a search term away.
  2. Attack your spam. When I got started, I was on more meaningless opt-in lists than I'd care to remember. Every time mail from an opt-in list hits your inbox, turn that into an action item too: unsubscribe! And if you find a couple lists that actually add value to your life, they'll be all the more unique when they come in.
  3. Hit the labs. Switch on the Send & Archive button in Gmail Labs. It adds a new button that sends your response and immediately archives the conversation -- essentially a "mark as complete" button for your inbox to-do list.

For more on empty inboxing, check out these posts: