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4 Inbox Zero Best Practices for Gmail

The good news is, thanks to all of you, my tutorial blog on Inbox Zero is now the most viewed blog on that topic. The bad news is because of oversight on my part, there’s a bit of confusion on the best way to implement the Gmail Inbox Zero method on a day-to-day basis. In this blog, I’m gonna first clear up the major questions I received from that original tutorial. Then, share best practices in three areas, as they relate to Inbox Zero, labels, filters, and workflow on your mobile app.

Come for productivity and stay for the ridiculously clean Gmail inbox. To be clear, if social media marketing services haven’t adopted Inbox Zero yet, watch my tutorial first, before coming back to this blog. Diving right into the workflow. So, you always wanna start from the bottom email because of the auto advanced feature we enabled in settings.

Clicking into this, and this is where my first oversight happened, instead of pressing L to label and then pressing E to archive, you actually want to press V instead to move to a label directly, like so. You do this because V, move to, combines the label and archive steps together. Thank you, Martin and Jibin, for correcting me here. Of course, if there’s an email you don’t need to take action on, you still wanna press E to archive and jump to the next email automatically.

Every Email Is Labeled

You should be unlabeled as you go through them. For follow-up emails that I have already taken the required action on, I like to press L and start typing in follow-up and press enter to unlabeled the email or alternatively, I can press the X here to remove the label. Now I can press E to archive and jump to the next follow-up email automatically, without having to go back to my inbox home page. A quick refresher on what the Waiting and Read Through labels mean.

Send Your Data First

For Waiting, remember, these are the emails where you need to chase someone else to take action because your butt is on the line. For example, you’re responsible for a presentation but someone else needs to send you data first. You can only unlabeled Waiting emails after they send you what you need. Email should only be labeled with reading Through if you need to reference them on a consistent basis. For me, these are usually industry reports or instructional emails for a tool I use like once a month. Of course, these can be unlabeled once they’re no longer relevant.

To quickly recap, here’s the Inbox Zero workflow in a simple decision tree-style format. After opening an email, decide whether you need to take action, not, press E to archive. most of the time action needs to be taken, decide whether it’s something you can tackle in two minutes or less. If not, press V to move to one of the labels, Follow Up, Waiting or Read Through. Then press G and I to go back to your inbox. If it’s something you can get done within two minutes, press R to reply or A to reply all. Last but not least, when you archive an email, it is not deleted.

All Mail Folders

It is simply moved to the All Mail folder here and when you search Gmail, it searches All Mail automatically. Moving on to labels. There are three types of labels you wanna create if you adopt Inbox Zero. First, the temporary action labels we just talked about, Follow Up, Waiting, and ReadThrough. Second, flag labels. These are the emails you receive from your manager or director, emails you receive from outside your company domain, or calendar invites.

These labels are applied the second they hit your inbox. Ow. I’m so strong. Oh. And third, and this is where most of the questions came up project labels. To put it simply, I would only create a label for a project that happens again and again. For example, quarterly business reviews, annual planning, and monthly marketing campaigns, because the next time that happens, I can just refer to all the emails tagged with that label. I don’t have to dig through my entire inbox to find a single revenue number.

Pro Tip

To keep my labels organized I only show the three action labels on the left here. For every other label, I either have it as a show if unread or hide it completely. Moving on to filters. So, basically in the last blog, I told you all to create a calendar label but forgot to tell you about the calendar label filter. So, in Gmail settings, under the Filters and Blocked Addresses tab, click create a new filter, and it has the words field, type in the filename: invite.ics. Let’s repeat, filename: invite.ics. Okay? Click create a filter, and apply the label to the calendar, if you don’t have it yet, simply press new label and let’s just call it Cal.

Also Read: How to Save MSG Files as PDF Document

Create and also apply a filter to any matching conversations and click create a filter. Now all meeting invites you to receive will automatically be tagged with the calendar label. To take this a step further, you actually want to create another filter. So, in the Has the Words field, input filename: invite.ICS, like just now, and the word accepted.

Click Create Filter

Skip the inbox, aka archive it, mark as read, apply the label calendar, and also apply to matching conversations and click create a filter. Now, you won’t receive a notification when someone accepts your meeting invite. If you think about it, you really don’t need to take action or even be notified if someone accepts your meeting invite, right. You only need to reschedule if someone declined that meeting invitation.

Receive Administrative Emails

Pro tip, if you’re in a position where you receive a lot of administrative emails you don’t really read, but you feel bad unsubscribing too, I’m looking at you senior leaders, you can actually create a catch all label and name it Admin. Create that filter with Mark as Read, Archive, and apply the label Admin to never let them hit your inbox, but you can still view them in a centralized location if you need to. Oh yeah, Jeff, I totally receive that weekly newsletter you put so much effort into and that I totally appreciate and read, and I don’t know why you’re so good and not promoted yet.

I taught you a hack that takes advantage of one of Gmail’s advanced features and that is, if you add any word after a plus sign, after your username, Gmail will still recognize it’s an email meant for you. There’s a bit of confusion here, so let me quickly explain.

Create A New Filter

If you haven’t already, you’ll wanna create a new filter and in the two fields input your username, the plus sign, and the word, create a filter, skip the inbox, archive it, mark it as read and apply the label Waiting. What this does is the next time you write an email requesting information from someone else, in the BCC field you can add your username plus and that sent email will show up in your Waiting panel on the right-hand side to remind you to chase the other person.

In my original tutorial, I mistakenly said the formula was your email plus, which is not true. It should be your username. So, if your email is, it should be And if all that it is too complicated, but you still want to take advantage of this feature. The next time you compose an email, click the three dots down below, go to the label, and select the Waiting label directly here.

Craves Attention

If you’re someone who craves attention, wait, why are we cutting to me? You can select these filters by doing so and click export to export them in a file that your colleagues can then import into their own accounts. Maybe by then, they’ll like me. I mean, you. They’ll like you ’cause I don’t need it. Finally, many of you asked me about the workflow on mobile.

In your Gmail mobile app, you wanna first click on the hamburger menu, go down to settings and then in Email Swipe Actions, for right swipe, I have it set to archive and for left swipe, I’ve set it to Move, which is essentially label plus archive. Because I don’t think responding to emails on the mobile app is very productive or efficient, I usually just look at the emails as they come in, archive the ones I don’t need to respond to by swiping right, and organize, aka label, the others by swiping left and tagging them with the appropriate label. The time I get back to my laptop they’re already nicely organized.

If you wanna see your labeled emails, click on the hamburger menu again and scroll down and click on any of the labels. Unfortunately, you can’t set up Inbox Zero from your mobile app. You have to set everything up using the web version first. If you need a quick refresher on the step-by-step instructions click here or feel free to check out my top productivity tips for Gmail in general.

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