5 Gmail hacks to get to inbox zero today

Who’s inbox looks like this?

Who doesn’t have a Gmail account? Maybe your grandma or your barber but I am pretty sure if you are reading this, you have at least several Gmail accounts: personal, college, work, 3 side-hustles, etc. And if you do, you probably have a ton of unread emails and aren’t entirely sure you have responded to everything that you should have. This is why you 100% need to know these 5 ways to maximize your usage of the product while getting the most done, for free.

First, Enable shortcuts 
Shortcuts will save you over a week and a half of time per year! If you are like me and spend half of my day in Gmail, it is essential that you increase your productivity when moving between messages, drafting new messages, and adding labels. Here is how to do that:

First, go to settings
Then, enable keyboard shortcuts

Third step is to actually learn Gmail shortcuts:
Download and print this cheat sheet. Then start using them. Some short cuts I use all day, every day: 
g i go to inbox
g a go to all
g d go to drafts
c compose an email
e archive email
j next email
k previous email

Second, go to inbox zero by setting up multiple inboxes 
How many of you leave things unread so you get back to them? Or star items? Or start writing a draft so you remember to respond? These are all hacks to help you organize your workflow but there is a better way. You can use multiple inboxes along with going to inbox zero. This means you can archive all of your emails and then set up inboxes for you to keep track of what needs to get done. This will sound familiar if you are a fanatic about David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach. If so, then this is a must (along with Boomerang, the 4th hack!). Put simply, when you get an email, you need to decide to either archive it, put it away for reference (using filters, the 3rd hack!), delegate it, waiting for a reply, or create a task for yourself to do later, or simply do it right there (if it can be done in under 2 minutes). Ready to go to zero? Here is how:

First, enable multiple inboxes from Labs under Settings. Press Save Changes at the bottom
After saving from Labs, Multiple Inboxes is now an option under Settings. Make these search queries. I personally like to put my extra inboxes belowthe actual inbox. Save Changes.
Deselect all of the Google auto-categories. Save Changes at the bottom.
You now may have a bunch of emails in your inbox you don’t care about. Select all and archive them by pressing “e” if you have already enabled shortcuts. Welcome to inbox zero club.

Third, create labels for your inboxes and everything else
After going to inbox zero and creating multiple inboxes, the next step is to create the filter categories that will be used for the multiple inboxes. The same approach can be used to auto-filter emails as well (we will talk about that too). You should also create labels for all sorts of other categories such as “sales” or “Bloomberg news”. Best news, you can add as many labels to an email as you would like. Here is how to create labels:

Again, go to settings, Labels, then scroll down to “Create new label”
Create the first label from the names of the inboxes from above. In this case, tasks. Labels are case sensitive.
Test your label worked by going to “all mail” (g a using shortcuts). Then type “l” to bring down label menu, and then type “t” to see that tasks is a label. Press the down arrow to select it and then press enter to add the label.
You have now added an email to your task list. Good job!

Fourth, create filters to help you label
Now that you have organized your emails by topic (e.g. creating labels), there is no reason you need to manually label everything that comes into your inbox. Sometimes, emails will always be marked as read and filed away into a special folder. Other times, you may want the automatic label, but want to process it in your inbox with everything else. The key action item for the next couple weeks will be to continue to make new filters as emails come in. Over time, this cumulative work will mean almost every email that lands in your inbox is already sorted. Here is how to automate this part of your life:

When an email is viewed, you can use drop down box of “More” to “Filter messages like this these”
Gmail will take a guess why you want to filter this message, but you can always edit the filter to be all subjects that say “weekly report” or any email coming from “@espn.com”. Once your criteria is set, click the lower right corner to “Create filter with this search.”
From here, you can either choose to skip the inbox entirely, mark as read, automatically apply a label, and/or apply to existing conversations that match your filter. Remember to press “Create filter” in the end.
Now we are back to your original email, but it is labeled only as “Cools”, marked as read, and in the Cools label has created.

Fifth, download Boomerang
This last hack requires you to download an add-on to Gmail but is 100% worth the minor extra step. How many times have you wanted to be reminded to look at an email in the future, e.g. a week from now, or be able to send an email tomorrow morning at 9am when your boss gets in, rather than 4am when you came back from the bar? Boomerang is your new very best friend to help remind you to follow up if someone doesn’t get back to you or you want to send an email at a later date. Other cool features are the ability to “pause” your inbox so you aren’t distracted, send recurring emails, and the use machine learning to predict if your email will be responded to.

Click big red button and press “Add extension”
Instantly defer processing of this to another day or time.
You can get reminded if there wasn’t a reply, send send the email later, and/or get an estimate of how “respondable” the email is, all from the draft message area.
The final feature is productivity hacks on steroids. It will take your emails that come into your inbox, put them in a hidden folder, bring new messages into your inbox on a schedule, allow you to see emails from your boss, and even let others know you only check your email 3x a day. Email inbox solved.

With these five steps, you can comfortably go to “inbox zero” in 30 minutes, will adding all the steps to have a stress-free life in a world of hundreds of emails a day. First add shortcuts to save yourself hours a day. Second, add multiple inboxes to prepare for inbox zero. Then, archive all your emails while creating labels for those subjects and senders that matter. After that, create automatic rules so you don’t need to categorize everything yourself. Finally, put your email on steroids with Boomerang, which lets you send emails later and also reminds you to follow up.

Prologue: The best part of all of these tips, because you probably have a half dozen Gmail accounts, is you can test any or all of the strategies in a less important inbox. I also totally forgot a couple other favorite Gmail features: “Undo Send” to accidentally reply all to the whole company and “Colored Stars” to visually prioritize emails. Let’s see if I get around to writing a version 2.0.

Special thanks to Tony Ubertaccio, who put me on to many of these hacks.