Finding Inbox Zero

My personal gmail account is unusable. I wade through the sludge occasionally, but mostly, it’s a lost cause. I really want to try Inbox, but since it’s not available for GAFE accounts, I’m not ready to make the change only to have to go back and forth between old and new.

Google Inbox

Needless to say, I have been searching for an Inbox Zero solution almost since I started using gmail. To date, I’ve tried filters and labels, I’ve tried different apps, Sortd being the latest but I’ve never found a solution that worked across desktop and mobile with a simple workflow that didn’t require a lot of effort. Many solutions try to make the Inbox more than email and while the allure of a task list or file cabinet in gmail is strong, at the end of the day, what I really need is a way to make sure I’m staying on top of the demands of my email. I was tired of “losing” email requests for technology, new furniture, help and the like. I even went to far as to switch from iOS to Android to get the native gmail app experience on my phone. It got better, but despite a more native gmail experience, the wall of email continued to threaten to bury me.

Enter Principal Todd (who almost certainly gets more email than me and never has a concern in the world about his Inbox) and his “duh, you moron” suggestion to use “Send & Archive” and Stars to manage the deluge. First, per Todd’s instructions, I enabled the “Send & Archive” button in gmail settings. A magical thing this. It means I can archive an email, or conversation, as soon as I’ve replied. If someone replies back, it pops back into the Inbox, but it doesn’t live there, clogging up the pipes (I wish it worked on mobile).

Send & Archive

Then I went off the reservation a bit and deleted all of the filters and labels I had originally put in place to “manage” the flow of email into my Inbox. I kept the ones that diverted the listerv emails,  obviously, but the rest are now toast. I did keep one label, my Needs Action throwback. I use it as a place holder for when I have to take information out of gmail and put it somewhere else. This is one of the places I still struggle a bit.

As for stars, I’m still cleaning up from a starring binge period where I starred every email I needed to follow up on (which was like almost all of them). Once I get them cleared out, I think I’m going to use Stars for “send info somewhere else” and I might be able to lose the Needs Action label altogether. For now, they’re the legacy part of this equation.

I’m also using a combination of Google Sheets and Docs to track different request. Information that comes in via email and needs a place to go ends up there. Thanks to Joe Ayala, we’ve also started using Slack with the team, and I now find myself relegating ToDo’s for my team which require action to Slack rather than email, because the message is visible to all and can be “checked off” when completed. It took me a bit of time to figure out the relationship between email, slack and google docs, but it’s starting to coalesce nicely.

Every day this week I hit Inbox Zero and as of now, I spent about 5 minutes clearing the 10 Needs Action emails out which were just waiting for me to put their information elsewhere (down to only two!). This whole process has been a lot of work and I definitely over did it with trying to keep up (I felt like I was in email constantly). With school out now, the flow should go down and I’ll have some time to tweak things. I’m considering setting up a few daily “desktop” email times where I go through the batch, rather than constantly trying to react in real time. I’m still able to reply to the important stuff on Mobile and archive where needed, but it’s not as efficient as via the web.

I’d really like the “Send & Archive” option on the mobile gmail app. That would make the circle complete but for now, I found Inbox Zero without third party add ons are apps. Yay!