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Getting Your Email Inbox to Zero

Safa Mahzari is a consultant focused on turning business data into actionable insights. His work centers on enhancing communication, which includes email and meeting productivity.


If you are anything like me, you have a phone and a computer. You also have more than one email inbox (raise your hand if you are at three or more!) and feel tethered to your devices. No matter where I was, the buzz of my phone took my attention away from what was in front of me.

Recently, I took a step back to evaluate my decisions. Yes, being available is important. But, so is being present, focused, and calm. The biggest culprit in my life was email. As many do, I have a love-hate relationship with email.

This is the pursuit of how I steered that relationship towards less hate and more love.

Why get your email inbox to zero?

Getting your email inbox to zero is the holy grail. It’s marking all mail as read, replying to all the important people, and clearing out all irrelevant messages. For people who have thousands of unread messages, this can seem impossible. I am here to tell you it’s doable. Furthermore, there is a big difference between reaching zero and having an inbox with 10-15 unread items. The psychological benefit of knowing you have nothing pulling your attention is huge. It reduces your general anxiety. You know, that thing that makes you feel anxious all the time but for no specific reason. That is what we are looking to minimize.

How to get your email inbox to zero?

Getting your inbox under control is doable. It might seem daunting, but there are a fixed number of steps you can take to regain autonomy. Let’s dive right in.

1) Unsubscribe from mailing lists

First, unsubscribe from all of the clutter. Clutter is the advertisement for that thing you don’t even need. It’s the newsletter about that topic you’re interested in, but not passionate about.

Think of your email inbox as the front door to your house: Be selective of who has access and when they can knock on the door.

The quickest way to find all your mailing lists is to type “unsubscribe” into your email’s search feature. Legally mailing lists are required to have a link to unsubscribe, so we can using this term in our searches will return all mailing lists.

2) Mark old messages as read

Second, I would take all messages older than 1 month, mark them as read, then clear them out of your inbox. Yes, all at once. This might seem drastic but I have done it multiple times and not lost messages of value.

If you have an inbox managed by Google (either Gmail or through your work), you should look into using search operators. For example: “older_than:30d” will show you all emails older than 30 days. Check out Google’s page on Search Operators for more options.

3) Manually sort through the latest messages

The last step is to manually sort through your latest messages. If a message deserves a response, reply to it now. I am a big fan of taking care of what I can right now – as opposed to writing it down, trying to find time to take care of it later, and adding it to my plate.

You can also create filters to automatically sort messages. I have two main filters: one for personal finances and another for business newsletters. This information is always sorted and readily available without contributing to my inbox tally. (Again, with Google you can use filters to have items “skip your inbox” and not add to your count.)

Keeping your email inbox at zero

I am pretty unconventional when it comes to keeping my inbox at zero. I do not have the red badge icon and I do not receive email notifications of any kind on my phone.

Instead, I check my email once in the morning and once in the evening. For example, from 11:00am to 11:30am and again from 5:00pm to 5:30pm I have dedicated time to my email.

During this time I archive emails that are not relevant, forward messages to others (if I cannot answer) and write thoughtful responses (when I can answer them myself). By having this dedicated time, I do not have to stress about when I am replying or if I have time to do so.

Keeping your email inbox to zero can seem challenging, but it is incredibly valuable. It frees up my day to think, to work, and to be creative. And I hope it does the same for you.

On a related note, I leave my phone on Do Not Disturb from 9:00pm to 9:00am each day. But that’s another story for another day!

More on Safa and his work optimizing business can be found at

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