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Image via James Sypniewski

One-Touch to Inbox Zero

“I don’t need a system — I just keep everything in email!”

“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s” — William Blake

First, the obvious stuff

These should be old news, but just in case:

Second, strip email down to its core function

The main problem with how people use email is that they use it for everything.

How I see so-called “smart” features

Your email inbox is someone else’s To Do list.

Repeat this to yourself every time you are tempted to give anyone in the whole world permission to interrupt what you’re doing, at any moment, for any reason.

Third, set up four downstream systems

The main reason your inbox is overflowing is the same reason any system gets blocked at the intake: a lack of effective downstream systems.

You after an Inbox Zero weekend crash course

1. Calendar

This is the easy one — any time-specific event, commitment, appointment, or decision goes immediately on the calendar.

2. Task manager

A task manager is simply a digital version of a To Do list.

Quick Entry with Autofill, in Things

3. Reference app

This is probably the most useful tool that few people are comfortable with.

4. Read Later app

Read Later apps allow you to save online content (web pages, articles, blog posts, videos) for later reading or viewing.

Fourth, streamline your workflow

Activities like email don’t obey the laws of classical Newtonian physics — they don’t grow linearly. Meaning, as you go from receiving 100 to 200 to 300 to 400 emails, the time and energy you must spend to manage these emails does not increase proportionally from 1x, to 2x, to 3x, to 4x.

Email is the woman in the blue dress (source)

“The ability to placehold rapidly is the key to allowing interruptions to not derail you” -Theo Compernolle

This method makes checking your email about as difficult as checking for new postal mail — you’re only deciding what work needs to be done, not doing it.

  • compose: c
  • reply: r
  • reply-all: a
  • forward: f
  • archive: e
  • send: cmd-enter

Fifth, practice making triage decisions

Everything we’ve prepared — all the downstream systems and workflow tweaks — strengthens your active sorting capability, aka triage.

  1. Archive (“e” shortcut) immediately

Remember that there is only one important time and it is Now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. — Leo Tolstoy

Any system with an unchecked positive feedback loop will ultimately destroy itself

The real value of creating a system for processing email is not that you can send and receive even more emails. In fact, this is a big part of the problem.



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Tiago Forte

Founder of productivity consultancy/training firm Forte Labs (, editor of members-only publication Praxis (