5 Gmail hacks to get to inbox zero today
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.