It's all too easy to let unread emails pile up. If you need more motivation acting on your emails quickly (say, if you want to stop being that unresponsive person who never returns messages), set up a filter and special inbox in Gmail that disappears as you read it.
This "empty Gmail hack" from Zen Habits blogger Leo Babauta was inspired by the Smart Unread Inbox (or "Schrödinger Smart Inbox" we featured before). But nstead of instructions for Apple Mail, Leo offers the steps to set this up in Gmail: clear out your inbox backlog first (with Email DMZ if necessary). Then create an "everything skips the inbox" filter and a new "Multiple Inbox" where all your unread emails will be sent.
Now, when you open an unread message, you have to do something with it or else it will just disappear from that inbox — motivation for you to act on it right away (and perhaps not read emails until you're ready to process them):
The power of this is that you know a message will disappear after you read it, so you are motivated to act on it right away. You should therefore do one of these things:
1. Reply or act/reply immediately if it takes a minute or less.
2. Put it on your todo list, and star it, if you need to act or write a longer reply later.
3. Put it on your calendar immediately if it's something you need to do on a certain date.
Otherwise, just hit archive, and it'll auto-advance to the next message. You can process a dozen messages like this in a minute or three, and then your inbox is empty again!
For full instructions, see Leo's blog post.
Empty Gmail Hack [Leo Babauta]