Our favourite way to keep your email inbox empty is a simple, three-folder system we call The Trusted Trio. However, if you're using Gmail and want to keep a clear inbox, it's actually a duo. Here's how to use two simple labels to consistently empty your Gmail inbox.
You already know the Trusted Trio consists of three folders:
- Archive—for closed messages you may want to reference later.
- Follow Up—for messages you need to do something about and respond to.
- Hold—for messages you're waiting on someone else to get back to you about.
Here's the full rundown of the Trusted Trio.
If you're using Gmail, however, things are a bit different. First of all, Gmail comes with an archive area built in: click on the "All Mail" link to see it. When you archive a message in Gmail (either by clicking the Archive button, selecting the menu option or hitting the E key), the message gets yanked out of your inbox and archived in the "All Mail" view. That means there's no need for the Trusted Trio's Archive folder. That is, you only need Follow Up and Hold buckets.
Since we're in Gmail, those buckets aren't folders, they're labels. If you're using labels other than Follow Up and Hold, you can sort Follow Up and Hold at the top of your label list. I do this by prefacing each one with an underscore, as shown. Several readers suggest numbering the labels to get them to sort the way you'd like, i.e., (1. Follow Up, 2. Hold.)
Of course, the whole point of the Trusted Trio is that you don't need a lengthy folder list to keep on top of what you've processed and what you haven't, but since you can give a single message more than one label, that rule doesn't apply as much in Gmail. Still, I recommend relying on Gmail's fabulous array of search operators to find stuff you need when you need it, rather than proactively labeling stuff in ways you'll probably never need.
Do you keep your Gmail inbox empty? How do you do it? Let us know in the comments.