The secret behind inbox zero.

Karolina Fotyga

It was a slow half-rainy Saturday. I decided to quickly finish up with the closing of the month, and all I needed was a couple of those forgotten invoices from my inbox. So I sat at the computer and then it hit me.

It’s not that I never thought about it, it just hit me with all its force how full my inbox was.

Over 24 000 e-mails gathered throughout the years. Four different accounts – true – but it doesn’t change the numbers.

I’ve been a minimalist (also digital minimalist) for years now, and I practice what I preach. But I never dealt with what I managed to gather before I had decided to really be mindful about it all. It meant my inbox has been pretty well ‘groomed’ for the last two years or so, but before that…. not so much.

Inbox zero is not only good for practical reasons. Decluttering your inbox feels much like decluttering your home, like getting rid of all the mess in your life too. Which means it’s really good for your overall mental wellbeing.

I spent an entire weekend in front of the computer sorting out that mess. It meant mostly deleting, to be honest. It soon turned out that Inbox Zero – my end game – was totally achievable. Even with this ridiculous number of (mostly) junk mail.

What exactly did I do?

I won’t bore you with details, it is after all a website on psychology and human nature;) Long story short – as most things in life – this too needs some rules. The first one for me is:

– RATIONALE behind the idea, then 

– CONSISTENCY in applying it, and overall


If it’s complicated, you won’t do it, and if you don’t do it EVERY DAY – it won’t work. As simple as that. But most importantly – you need to know your WHY. Why you want to do what you want to do. 

Here it is – my list of how to stay sane and not give in to the flood that is your inbox.

First things first – purge.

I spent the whole day doing just that. Deleting away all those 15-year-old reminders of parties, special deals, and funny memes. It’s the majority of all that. Just getting rid of all the clutter. Thank you, minimalism. I used the search feature and kept deleting in batches. All 350 e-mails from my favorite supermarket. Back in 2012. All the reminders of the connection someone was eager to make on LinkedIn. All the super deals on the bathtubs I was researching when doing the renovation of the house. In 2007! It’s so weirdly satisfying when you see the number drop from 24k to 18, then 17 and 12k. A beautiful feeling, let me tell you.

Unsubscribe with passion. 

Something I’ve been practicing religiously for the last years is unsubscribing from all the unwanted newsletters. It’s not always easy, some of them are pretty persistent to keep you hooked. When you’re persistent too, it’s doable. Find the joy in hitting ‘unsubscribe’ – it’s literally a mountain of clutter you’re saving yourself from.

PUSH notifications 

Curiously enough – they ruin your productivity and may impact your mental wellbeing. 

Most of us don’t need to be in our mailbox every 12 minutes. And often enough, we are. Why? Try not to react when your device beeps announcing a new exciting arrival. The struggle is real. Keep in mind that:

Multitasking – neurologically speaking is overrated. When we do a lot at once – we’re not very mindful at all.

We tend to start to lose those bits and pieces. I’m sure you know the scenario – you’re working on something trying to focus, and you get 28 notifications. Your inbox, FB, IG, bank, and a dozen (at least!) different apps ask you to go play with them. The answer should be a definite NO. 

That is, of course, if you’re willing to do something productive and not spend the next 3 hours going from one distraction to another. Giving in to the terror of the PUSH feature will leave you frustrated and less able to concentrate on what’s important. Instead, try turning all of the notifications off, and only check your e-mail – say twice a day – intentionally. See how this works for you. (You can check my text about procrastination and the use od the Pomodoro Technique.)

We all receive dozens of e-mails a day. But it’s just like with not answering your phone when somebody’s calling you. I hope you take care of those boundaries, by the way ;). You don’t have to drop everything and take care of an e-mail as soon as it’s announced in your inbox.

One thing that’s worth remembering about notifications is that it’s not only “push”. It’s also the tiny red indicator that you have 43 new e-mails waiting. Getting rid of that eliminates the need to immediately check what’s there.

Imagine you have your first e-mail account TODAY

How would you organize it? It’s often that people don’t even bother reflecting on that along the way. It might somehow never occur that we can actually CHANGE things no matter how far along we are. So. If your account vanished just like that and you were to set up a new structure, what would you do? How would you go about it? What would be important to you to take care of?

I decided to divide my structure clearly into personal and professional. And in those two, I set up a couple of more folders, so that everything could be easily found.

Let all your devices be on the same page.

There are people out there who have gazillion unread e-mails on their phone and then some more on the computer. They are overwhelmed, anxious, and miss the important stuff because they never thought to synchronize the accounts and the devices. If you remember that devices are there for you and not the other way around, you will be better off in the end. In most cases, you want to have the same e-mail set up on your phone, tablet, and computer. It means whatever you do on any of the devices will end up exactly the same everywhere else.

Judging by what google analytics tell me – most of you who read this are between 25-45 years old. Which means you weren’t born with an iPad in your hand. It also means nobody taught you how to use e-mail. I get it, I’ve been there. But when you think about it – it really is something we do DAILY. It feels crucial to have it figured out so that we actually do what we do intentionally. If we skip this part – all we do is passively react to what’s happening instead of taking action. And since you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be reactive anymore.

2-minute rule. 

Do you know the 2 minute rule? I highly recommend it in various aspects of life (like PROCRASTINATION). When it comes to your inbox management, it means – if you can do it in under two minutes – do it now and forget about it. When dealing with your e-mails, make sure to act quickly and confidently. After all – you know you set up the system working in your favor that you’re only maintaining now.

How to maintain the system?

– Make sure the system makes sense for you and your needs.

– Then.Just.Do.It.Daily. Make it your new habit. Work out the best solutions for you and then stick to them. The system only works when you do.

– Delete as much as you can,

– Reply if it is something you can do under 2 minutes,

– Immediately shove it to its destination folder,

– Schedule it to appear in your inbox later (boomerang), or

– Schedule your written reply to be sent some other time and don’t forget to



That’s it. We use e-mails to communicate better, to work, and play more efficiently. If not handled intentionally, though, this whole endeavor might turn out to be a time trap and cause a lot of frustration and anxiety.

The key is (as always) in the mindset. And suddenly, we’re back to the brain:)

Do you want to receive info about new articles?

Sign up for the newsletter.

suggested read