Let’s cut the crap: I’m a fan-boy, plain and simple. I’m an Apple fan-boy and I’m a Google fan-boy. I love the simplicity of the products they create, and for the most part everything just works. I’ve been using Gmail since 2004 when it was still in closed beta and have never felt the need to use anything else. Somehow though, it took me almost six years to realize I was using it all wrong.
For all this time I have been lazily reading and composing mail, using a few filters to get those incoming messages bagged and tagged but keeping every single e-mail in the inbox. It was only a month or so ago I realized the beauty of the Archive button, which was only sporadically used before. Since then I’ve got a very clear work-flow for dealing with all my mail.
The main goal is to keep your inbox empty. If you haven’t seen an empty inbox since the last trembling months of the last millennium you have no idea what you’re missing. It really gives a feeling of peace to see that nothingness stare back at you - no judgment for not replying, no expectation to be populated, just a blank slate. This is not always possible though, but most of the time I do manage to keep it empty.
Whenever a new e-mail pops in, I read it. Now, that’s not so hard? Once read I decide if I can answer it right at this moment, and if I can, I do. Thereafter I archive the conversation and move on. Archiving obviously also goes for informational messages that does not need any reply. Those e-mails that I expect to be able to answer in the next day or two are allowed to remain read in the inbox. That’s pretty much it!
Now, you may ask yourself “How about e-mails that I won’t be able to give an answer to until a further date?”. The answer to that is for you to reply immediately and write exactly that, and we are magically back to step one. For those really important e-mails that I might need to reference for longer periods of time I like to use the Star feature of Gmail.
Is the clutter-free inbox the way of the future or a pointless Getting Things Done-inspired waste of time? Go for comments.