Inbox Zero Method 101: How to Master It

Ludovic Armand
by Ludovic Armand

We all get submerged with tons of emails every day. And for many of us managing them and keeping an inbox free of clutter can be daunting. Unfortunately, the more we postpone the task the worst it gets.

Luckily for us, a lot of techniques and tools have been developed to help us overcome this challenge, but one, in particular, has become the go-to for a lot of people.

The inbox zero method!

In this article, you will learn about the benefits of achieving and maintaining inbox zero, the steps and strategies you can follow to master it, and the tools you can use to stay there.

What is Inbox Zero?

Inbox zero is a popular email management method aiming to help you keep your inbox organized and free of clutter by responding to or deleting emails as quickly as possible. The goal is to help you manage your email more efficiently, and reduce the stress and anxiety associated with having a cluttered inbox by keeping your inbox empty or almost empty at all times.

The inbox zero method was first introduced by Merlin Mann on his website 43 Folders. However, the technique gained traction when Mann gave a talk in 2007 at Google Tech Talk. He explained how inbox zero could be used to help people manage their email.

The talk and subsequently the inbox zero method become so popular that a movement around this email management method to stay organized and manage email emerged since then.

On his blog, Mann published five principles to explain the concept:

  1. Not all emails are equally important: Don't treat every email like it's urgent. Instead, focus on the few messages that matter the most.
  2. Your time is valuable and limited: Don't try to respond to every email. Accept that you have more work than time and use time management strategies accordingly.
  3. Shorter email responses are often better than longer ones: Avoid sending lengthy emails that waste time and don't add value.
  4. Don't feel guilty about having a lot of emails in your inbox: It's common to have a full inbox, so focus on cleaning it up instead of feeling bad about it.
  5. Be honest with yourself about your priorities and how much time you have: Don't pretend that you'll respond to every email when you know you won't. Instead, be realistic and focus on what matters most.

While a completely empty inbox may seem impossible, many people would argue that the core idea behind the inbox zero method isn't necessarily about having an inbox containing zero emails at the end of every day anymore. The goal is more about being able to deal with the constant stream of emails without having to stress or put too much focus into it.

With the right steps and strategies that we’ll explore below, you'll be able to achieve stress-free email management.

Is Inbox Zero a Good Idea for You?

Inbox Zero isn’t just good for your inbox.

According to a study by Atlassian, over-reliance on email to collaborate with team members is consuming a lot of our time in a workday.

The same study showed that we receive on average 304 business emails a week, look at our inbox on average 36 times per hour, and that it takes approximately 16 minutes to refocus after handling emails.

Time spent on average on emails every day when not using the inbox zero method

That's a lot of time wasted!

Being more productive and efficient with emails also helps you be more productive in your other tasks.

Benefits of Achieving Inbox Zero

While achieving inbox zero can prove challenging, it can also be extremely rewarding.

There are many benefits to achieving inbox zero, including:

  • Improved focus and less stress

    For starters, achieving inbox zero can help you stay organized and on top of your emails. By responding to or deleting emails quickly, you can keep your inbox clean and organized. This can help you stay on top of important emails and make it easier to find emails when you need them.

  • Increased productivity

    Achieving inbox zero can also help you be more productive. By responding to emails quickly and efficiently, you can free up your time to focus on important tasks and projects. This can help you get more done in less time, which can lead to increased productivity.

  • Better organization

    Finally, achieving inbox zero can help you reduce stress. By responding to emails quickly and efficiently, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed by your inbox and reduce the stress caused by email overload.

How to Master the Inbox Zero Method?

With so many benefits let's explore how to master the inbox zero method. Here are the steps and productivity tips you can use to achieve and maintain inbox zero.

Steps to Achieving Inbox Zero

1. Unsubscribe from any email lists or newsletters that you no longer need or want

The first step to achieving inbox zero is to unsubscribe from any newsletters or email lists that you no longer want to receive. This can help reduce the number of emails you receive, making it easier to keep your inbox organized. You can use unsubscribe tools, do it manually via the link in each email, or use an email client, like Missive, with an unsubscribe button to easily send remove your address from the list.

Unsubscribe to newsletter easily with the unsubscribe button in Missive

2. Create folders or labels to organize your remaining emails

The next step is to create folders or labels to organize different types of emails. This can help you quickly find emails when you need them and keep your inbox organized.

3. Creating rules or filters to automatically sort incoming emails

The third step is to create email filters or rules to automatically sort incoming emails. This can help you quickly sort emails into their respective folders or labels so you don’t have to manually sort them every time.

4. Process each email in your inbox

According to the technique developed by Merlin Mann, each time you receive an email you should:

  • Delete or achieve: If the email is no longer relevant or necessary, delete or achieve it if you might need it later.

  • Delegate: If the email requires someone else or can’t be handled by you, delegate it to the appropriate person.

  • Respond: If the email can be answered quickly and easily, respond immediately.

  • Defer: If the email requires a longer or more involved response, or it needs a follow-up later, schedule time on your calendar to deal with it later.

  • Do: If the email can be handled quickly and easily, do it immediately.

By following these steps and regularly checking and processing your email, you can maintain an empty inbox and stay on top of your email communications.

Strategies for Staying at Inbox Zero

Achieved inbox zero is great, but staying with an empty inbox is another challenge.

To make sure you’re staying on top of your emails and that your inbox doesn’t fill up again here are some strategies you can use to stay at inbox zero.

  1. Use the two-minute rule. This rule states that if an email can be dealt with in two minutes or less, do it. This can help you respond to emails quickly, so they don’t pile up in your inbox.

  2. Use the “touch it once” rule. This rule states that if you open an email, you should respond to it, delete it or archive it, defer it, or delegate it. This can help you quickly deal with emails and keep your inbox organized.

  3. Use the “no cc” rule. This rule states that if you’re not the primary recipient of an email, you should not respond to it. This can help you avoid unnecessary emails in your inbox and keep your inbox organized.

  4. Limit the amount of time you check your inbox every day. Checking your emails once every hour or more for a few minutes is enough.

Email Management Tips for Achieving Inbox Zero

In addition to the steps and strategies listed above, there are also some email management best practices you can use to help you achieve and stay at inbox zero. Here are some tips that can help:

  1. Use an email client that allows you to quickly sort and organize emails. This can help you quickly sort emails into their respective folders or labels and make it easier to find emails when you need them.

  2. Use the “snooze” feature to temporarily hide emails. This can help you hide emails that you don’t need to respond to immediately but might need to reference later.

  3. Use labels to quickly organize emails. This can help you quickly find emails when you need them and make it easier to stay organized.

  4. Use canned responses to quickly reply to emails. This can help you respond to emails quickly and efficiently, so they don’t pile up in your inbox.

Tools to Help You Achieve Inbox Zero

There are a number of email management software that can help you achieve and stay at inbox zero. Email clients like Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, and Gmail can help you quickly sort and organize and manage emails.

For example, here’s how you can achieve inbox zero with Gmail:

By taking advantage of a few basic Gmail functionalities you can declutter your mailbox:

  • Take advantage of folders to categorize your emails

  • Set up rules to filter incoming emails

  • Sort messages with snooze, labels, and archive

But what about when you need to also manage shared mailboxes?

A tool like Missive can help you quickly respond to emails, stay organized, and achieve inbox zero while collaborating with your coworkers.

Second, there are productivity apps like Todoist, Evernote, and Trello. These apps can help you manage tasks and projects, so you can focus on responding to emails and achieving inbox zero.

How to Use the Inbox Zero Method with Missive?

We believe Inbox Zero is intended to make you more productive, not a slave to your inbox.

These tips are unique to Missive because we throw a collaborative aspect into the picture. Interesting right?

1. Check emails in batches

You can limit to getting 2 or 3 batches of emails per day. This will immediately free up dozens of minutes of your day. We wrote a popular blog post entirely dedicated to this topic.

Batching emails in Missive is quite easy. You can create rules to define when emails should land in your inbox.

Using Missive rule to check emails in batches while working with the inbox zero method

When enabled, all emails arriving between 12:00 AM and 7:59 AM won't show up in your inbox until 8:00 am.

2. Use labels to organize your emails

By creating an organizational system, you can prioritize messages to easily know what should be worked on first. The system can be as meticulous or simple as you want.

We suggest a product management prioritization framework named the MoSCoW method. It helps you categorize emails into four unambiguous labels:

Must respond
Should respond
Could respond
Won't respond
  • Must respond: Emails that need to be dealt with, the non-negotiables. Otherwise, your email organization can suffer.
  • Should respond: These are less time-sensitive than the "must haves", but can be as critical. Not answering them promptly won’t affect your business, but you do need to work on them eventually.
  • Could respond: These emails could be answered if you have some spare time, nothing critical.
  • Won't respond: Emails that have no impact on your work, just discard them.

In Missive you can create labels and sub-labels in the blink of an eye. But even more interesting, you can create sharedlabels. These can be shared across different teams, coworkers, or through the entire organization!

Using share labels with coworkers in the inbox zero method

3. Delegate when possible

Using the prioritization method above, try to delegate your "could respond" emails to an assistant or someone in the team that can speak on your behalf.

In Missive you can seamlessly pass the baton to a colleague or assistant with the click of a button. You can even chat inside emails to let others know how a message should be dealt with. If you want we have an in-depth article about delegating to an executive assistant.

Internal chat email delegation to declutter inbox

You can also easily delegate your calendar for someone else to manage!

4. Limit or eliminate your newsletter subscriptions

Take back control of your inbox and try unsubscribing from most newsletters.

In Missive you can create groups of contacts and then rules to automatically trash emails coming from them. You can create a group named "Spammers" and then a rule to delete emails from them. This is how you can build that rule:

Trash emails automatically from spammers to achieve inbox zero

5. Screen emails from strangers

Have a place where emails from strangers arrive, without email notifications. You can screen them and allow important ones to reach your inbox. This is a little different from a spam filter since these emails are not discarded immediately.

Not a lot of email clients have the power to offer this, but Missive does. You can achieve this by creating a rule like this one:

Screen emails from strangers to declutter your inbox

All emails coming from people outside your contact book will be removed from everyone’s Inbox and labeled “To Screen”.

To mark an email as safe, simply add the sender as a contact.

Screened senders emails arrive to inbox

6. Snooze emails

When receiving an email that you need to differ, you should snooze it to a later time instead of keeping it in your inbox.

In Missive, you can snooze messages by clicking the Snooze button. You can also configure often-used schedules, like “After work” or “Early morning”.

Screened senders emails arrive to inbox

Pro Tip Missive is big on privacy, we actively block read trackers so senders can’t know if and when you open their emails. So read emails at your discretion and reply when you see fit, no pressure.

Why Inbox Zero Method Might Be Bad?

Since Marlin Mann first talked about the concept of inbox zero in 2007 digital life has evolved tremendously. Now there is way more than an email inbox to manage.

There’s social media, chat apps, and even voicemail. And with smartphones and an internet connection almost everywhere, you’re always available to receive and view tons of messages.

In an article published on Wired in 2020, Mann re-explored his inbox management technique to adapt it to modern reality. While the inbox zero method is good at its core, there’s a risk to take it too literally and trying to achieve inbox zero through all means.

Marlin Mann's new take on the inbox zero method is to allow yourself time off and focus on what matters the most to you first. This way you can avoid stressing out with a technique meant to reduce stress caused by emails.


Achieving inbox zero can seem like an impossible task, but it doesn’t have to be. With a few simple steps and strategies, you can easily achieve and maintain inbox zero.

By unsubscribing from newsletters, creating folders or labels, creating filters or rules, responding to emails quickly, deleting emails, and archiving emails, you can keep your inbox clean and organized. In addition, you can use email management tips and tools, and services to help you achieve and stay at inbox zero.

To enhance your email productivity, you could also consider trying one of the best AI email assistants.


What is the Inbox Zero Method?

The Inbox Zero method is an email management technique that focuses on quickly handling emails as they arrive:

  • Respond immediately
  • Delegate or forward right away
  • Schedule or snooze for later
  • Delete if irrelevant

This ensures you never miss important emails and that they don't pile up and cause you stress. The key is training yourself to take action on every email the moment you read it.

Is Inbox Zero a Real Thing?

Yes, Inbox Zero is a real email management technique with practical benefits. The goal is to handle each email immediately.

While truly having zero emails may seem impossible, even reducing your pile by half will declutter your head and boost productivity. You'll be less stressed and less likely to miss important messages.

The "zero" refers to taking care of incoming emails when you open them so you don't have a backlog of emails to deal with.

Ludovic Armand

Digital Marketing Lead at Missive
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