The #1 Rule to Reach Inbox Zero: Embrace the Archive

If you use more than one folder to manually file away all your emails, not only will you never reach inbox zero, but email will always be a challenge and your mind will never be clear.

If you’re interested in clearing your mind and your inbox, check out the video below, or simply continue reading.

Here is the executive summary (or the BLUF or tl;dr version) of the article and video that follows:

Complete or capture the action associated with an email, then move that completed email to your one and only “done” or “completed” folder.

That’s it. If you can do that, it becomes much more likely that you’ll see the bottom of your inbox.

If that sounds too simple, watch the quick 7-minute video below and/or read my explanation that follows.

Ultimately, if you use more than one folder, you will either never reach inbox zero, or you will struggle maintaining it, and your life will remain chaotic—at least as it pertains to email (which unfortunately, is a significant driver of what we do or do not accomplish personally and professionally).

Additionally, if your system is complex, you will also fail.

So where does that leave us?

It should be clear that what we as humans require to wrangle our inboxes are just two things: (1) a simple system that (2) relies on only one folder.

I have previously explained some of the basics and technical how-to of this simple, one folder concept in my post, Inbox Zero: The Key to Less Email is No Email (Step 3).

However, the benefits and the why behind this one folder system were not the focus of that previous article, but will be in this discussion.

Here’s what I’ll be explaining:

  • Using any number of email folders that exceed one is a really, really, bad idea.
  • A complete rundown of how to operate using only one folder.
  • When it comes to finding an email, the search function is guaranteed to beat the antiquated, find-it-by-scrolling-squinting-and-reading technique, every time.
  • Because this method makes it functionally impossible to overlook important emails or tasks, you will become a trusted taskmaster.
  • This technique does not involve deleting emails; only moving (or removing) them.

And here we go…

Using any number of email folders that exceed one is a really, really, bad idea.

  • Multiple folders cause decision fatigue. If the human brain has a finite capacity for making good decisions each day, then consider that filing (and finding) emails in a multiple folder environment requires the user to make a decision as to where to put (or find) an email every time a new email is completed (or needed). Multiply these micro-decisions by the total amount of emails processed in a given day and you can begin to see how simply filing (and finding) emails becomes an enormous and unnecessary brain drain. Especially given that—in my proposed single folder environment—zero decisions have to be made, ever.
  • Folders are so 1990s. Filing emails is an anachronism that, perhaps surprisingly, makes finding emails unnecessarily difficult. In the past, people filed emails in folders for two reasons: (1) that’s what you did with important electronic documents on your computer and (2) search sucked, so it was the only way. However, with the advent of Gmail, smart searching your inbox for the exact email you seek should have supplanted the folders system of the pre-Google era. If you are still holding on to this dinosaur methodology, fear not, for you are not alone. Allow me today to be the first to formally invite you, and all those like you, into the 21st century. 😃

How to operate using only one folder.

  • Follow these steps. (1) create a done or completed folder (2) open the email at the top of your inbox (LIFO) (3) complete or capture the action required with that email (4) move the email to your done or completed folder. That’s it! Rinse and repeat steps 2-4 until your inbox is empty.
  • Locate email intelligently. Use smart searches to find your emails instead of tediously, manually combing your inbox. There are just a few simple search terms (aka Boolean search “operators”) that if committed to memory, 100% obviate the need for folders. I also have a video that explains how to search your inbox hyper-effectively.

You become a taskmaster because it is functionally impossible to overlook important emails or tasks.

  • As the video above most clearly depicts, if your MO is to move only completed emails to your completed folder, the only way to miss an email… doesn’t exist.
  • This is because you are (1) eyeballing each email, (2) confirming that any and all associated actions are complete, and then (3) physically moving the email from your inbox to your completed folder, it is literally impossible to miss any emails. Ever. It therefore follows that you never miss emails, you will then never miss any tasks, requests or information sent to you over email (follow through and execution are of course, dependent on the strength of your personal organization and/or trusted systems). Finally, assuming a high task execution and follow through rate, you become a “fire and forget” employee, co-worker, boss friend, relative, or spouse. And ultimately, when any of these individuals know that they can send you a task, request, or anything of any level of importance, and that you will respond or action it, you become a highly trusted agent.

This technique does not involve deleting emails; only moving (or removing) them.

  • The completed folder is an actual place where emails remain to be retrieved in the future as required, it is not the trash.
  • When processing your inbox and your only perceived options are to delete the email or leave it in your inbox, of course it’ll never leave your inbox—archive instead!

I explain all of this in detail in the video I posted above.

Please watch the video and ask questions here or on my YouTube channel and I’ll be sure to answer!

Happy better emailing!
(you’ve been Evilsized!)

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