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We have been having a discussion about this. Several people say that they follow Inbox Zero, but do very different things. The variations that I have heard are:

  • All emails read, but still in the inbox
  • All emails read, and moved to a "read" folder
  • All emails read, either deleted or moved to a reference folder

Are all of these practices considered inbox zero, or is one the "proper way" to do it? Purhaps the proper way is not on my list.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

It means nothing in the inbox is on your mind. The inbox doesn't have to be literally empty, but you shouldn't have to think about it.

People can have different approaches. A colleague of mine makes sure that all his mail is tagged something. I prefer emptying or moving it on to different folders. It can simply be that all mail is marked read.

What's important is that you don't ever have to worry that something is "lost in the mail" or that you have an urgent email that you forgot to reply to.

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Inbox Zero means what it says: nothing what so ever is left in your in box.

It also means that emails are processed to the point where you'll never have to read them again.

Processing emails involves either:

  1. just deleting them
  2. actioning them immediately
  3. adding items to your todo list
  4. adding their contents to your reference database.

Some emails don't even need to be read once - they just need to be deleted. Spam, for example.

There is no value in a "read" items folder. Once an email has been processed, it should be deleted.


A little more research shows that what I've written above isn't actually correct.

According to the term "Inbox Zero" originates with Merlin Mann. The site explains that "Inbox Zero" is "not how many mes­sages are in your inbox – it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.".

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I advise against deleting email messages (except obvious spam). You should archive them, so that you can get them back should the need arise (legal situations etc. come to mind). – Gruber Mar 5 '13 at 10:21
@Gruber: That would depend entirely on your needs. In general, I would advocate deleting emails unless there is a genuine need to archive them. If you do have that need, however, an "archive" folder has its place. – Kramii Mar 5 '13 at 10:33

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