Clean inbox

Clean Inbox or Inbox Zero is an approach that aims to minimise distraction and stress. The premise is the same as using a traditional paper inbox: it should be empty at the end of each day. Obviously, this is an ideal and in practical terms rarely achieved.


  • The only messages that should be in your inbox are ones that require action (read, reply, task – though a task management system is better suited to the latter)
  • Archive (or file) messages out of your inbox when you are done with them. Delete only emails you won’t need again (promotional email, feedback surveys, etc) – never delete correspondence.
  • Use search to find emails that have been archived. Folders and labels take effort to maintain and are only useful in a few contexts.
  • Ensure the subject line is applicable. Long running email conversations or threads can be very confusing - especially with multiple recipients. Set a clear subject, and create a new email with a more appropriate subject line if the content strays.
  • Write emails that don’t invite unnecessary further emails. Be specific with questions, options and time frames.
  • Prioritise older messages. Along with the count of messages in your inbox, the age of messages is important too.
  • Personally, I feel responding within 2 working days is acceptable – however your sector may differ. If someone needs you faster, they should have your phone number so they can call you.
  • Discuss topics verbally, confirm what was discussed by email. Email is great as a written and asynchronous record, but sometimes meetings or phone calls are far more effective.
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists or newsletters that you never read.
  • Turn off audible notifications for email on your phone.

Gmail is especially suited to a clean inbox

  • A user’s mailbox is essentially one big pile of mail, and labels function like filters so individual messages can exist in multiple locations at once.
  • The inbox is simply a label applied to all new messages as they come in. Archiving a message removes the “inbox” label.
  • Turn on Send & Archive under settings to clean messages out of your inbox when you reply to someone.
  • Advanced search has a lot of power if you’re having struggling to find something.
  • Snooze messages that you’d like to return to your inbox at a specific date and time.

Disposable addresses

  • If you have a catch-all address setup for your domain, you can create ad-hoc addresses.
  • Setting up a catch-all (in Google Workspace Admin or whatever email provider you use) means anything in front of the @ symbol of your domain will still be delivered to wherever you set that up for.
  • I use this sometimes for recipient-specific email addresses when filling in sign-up or marketing forms.
  • For example, if I was signing up with a company called Acme on 22 March 2023, I could give my email address as and it would still come to me.
  • By doing this you don’t reveal your primary address, enables you to filter out or delete messages to this address, and provides proof if it’s used or shared elsewhere unexpectedly.