How to Reach Inbox Zero With These Gmail Hacks

I have over 3,000 unread emails in my inbox. Admittedly, I intentionally allowed my inbox to accumulate these emails in order to write this article. Within two hours, I went from 3,000 to just close to 400 using the method I will outline below.

I still have a while to go before reaching “inbox zero.” What’s that, you ask? Inbox Zero is an email management approach that aims to keep your inbox as close to zero as possible.

In Doughroller podcast (DR 133), we revealed a strategy to manage the thousands of emails coming into multiple Doughroller email inboxes. By systematically going through the inbox, unsubscribing from newsletters, and by archiving, responding to, and deleting individual messages, Dough Roller eventually got to and currently maintains Inbox Zero.

My personal goal is Inbox 50 and I can probably do that within the next few days. Here’s how:

Google Labs and Third Party Gmail Add-ons

The first step is to make sure you can navigate Gmail. You can watch a video on becoming a Gmail Ninja, read about 15 Gmail Productivity Hacks, or implement the 13 Gmail Hacks That’ll INSTANTLY Maximize Your Productivity to learn more about using Gmail efficiently.

Even with the proper training, the problem is that Gmail is perpetually changing. Many of Google Labs’ experimental Gmail features become standard features. As Google evolves and adopts new abilities, it also renders some third party add-ons obsolete.

Here are some examples of features that were once experimental or required a third party add-on:

  • Document previews, once a Google Labs feature, now allow you to view documents without having to download them first.

  • Send and archive emails, another former Google Labs feature, allows you to send an email and archive it at the same time.

  • Snooze, formerly an add-on, is used in Inbox to remind yourself to take action on a particular email at a later date or time.

  • Gmail now has an easy to use, One-Click Unsubscribe Feature for most newsletters. There are services like that will easily unsubscribe you from newsletters, but what’s easier than one click?

New features are constantly being released by Gmail, and new third party Gmail add-ons and integrations are constantly being developed. Because of this, it can be confusing to simply navigate through the newest Gmail changes, let alone determine which third party app will help you best get to Inbox Zero. In this article, I will show you my version of how to implement Rob Berger’s Inbox Zero strategy using only the latest Google features (as of July 2016).

My Inbox Zero strategy will use both Gmail and Inbox, which share the same inbox. Think about it as two ways to look at your email:

Gmail is simply your email inbox.

Inbox (by Google) is a productivity platform which connects your email to notes, reminders, and your calendar.

  • It is essentially Google’s take on the very similar GTD Productivity system.
  • It changes your email mindset by turning emails into tasks.
  • You can set your emails aside by snoozing them.
  • It connects with your mobile devices to automatically alert you of a delayed flight in your email or a snoozed reminder.
  • The more you interact with it, the more it learns about you and the more useful it becomes.

How To Reach Inbox Zero Using Gmail and Inbox

1. Dedicate time for email. If you receive a large volume of emails, you can easily get buried in them if you do not dedicate an appropriate amount of time to review your messages. Plan according to your email volume.

2. Unsubscribe from newsletters. Gmail now has an easy to use unsubscribe feature. If you use Gmail’s default inbox, most of your email newsletters will be in the Promotions folder. Click on the unique newsletters you wish to unsubscribe from and click on the Unsubscribe button (occasionally, you may need to click on the link provided in the email). You only need to do this once per newsletter and don’t bother deleting them (we will cover that in step 4).

3. Work with Bundles in Google Inbox

Google Inbox automatically bundles your email the exact same way as Gmail’s default inbox, using Social, Updates, Promotions, and Forums. These and the other default Inbox categories make up the majority of every user’s inbox and by categorizing them this way in Google Inbox, it allows you to easily manage and review your emails by bundling.

Go into each Bundle and for every email do ONE of the following:

  1. Skip unwanted emails in your bundle and go to the next email (we will delete them later).
  2. One Touch: Reply and/or Check. Try to touch each email only once.
  1. Reply and Check. If you can reply instantly, do so. Click on the check after it is sent to archive it.
  2. Check. If an email is the last step in an inquiry or action, such as a receipt for a delivered package, mark as done by clicking on the check.
  1. Save for Later: Move, Pin, or Snooze. If you can’t resolve an email in just one touch, these are your other options:
  1. Move to a different bundle for you to address later.
  2. Pin the most important of emails.
  3. Snooze to remind yourself to take action on an email at a later date or time.

4. Nuke Your Bundle in Inbox. This is my favorite part. Once you have replied, checked, moved, pinned, or snoozed all important emails in a bundle, click on the Trash to delete the rest. Repeat steps 3 & 4 for each bundle. It’s a small victory each time!

5. Bundling Individual Emails in Gmail. You can now access the power of searching, creating labels, and applying filters all in one easy to use, guided search box in Gmail. By creating filtered labels, you can easily convert them into bundles in Google Inbox. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Basic Search – You can search directly from the box, using search operators. I prefer using a more guided “Show search options”
  2. Advanced Search. In search options you can use more specific search criteria.

This search will find any DoughRoller newsletter email that contains information about credit cards or asset allocation.

  1. The most useful options you can use to search through your email are:
  1. Quotations will allow you to search for phrases
  2. Commas to search for ALL words or phrases. Example: apples, bananas, carrots will result in emails containing ALL of those listed foods.
  3. Vertical bars “ | “ (usually above your Enter key) will search for ANY words or phrases. Vertical bars do not work in “Doesn’t have” section. This example will search for ANY email sent from an immediate family.
  1. Filters. You can easily create filters from your search. Be sure to apply a Label for your search criteria.
  1. Be careful of filters that skip the inbox. You will not receive a notification on your phone or browser. For emails from my friends, family, or coworkers, I set to immediately Archive it since these are the inboxes I monitor consistently.
  1. Labels. Gmail’s labels system is its version of folders. Create new labels directly in your search options while concurrently creating a filter.
  1. Don’t go crazy with labels! Try to “bundle” your most commonly received emails into a small, manageable amount of labels. Examples: Family, Church Group, Bowling Team.
  1. Turn your Labels into Bundles in Google Inbox. By turning your filters into bundles you can easily repeat steps 3-4 for all your newly created Bundles.

6. Individual Emails – Reply, Archive, Mark as Spam, or Delete. The quickest way to address the emails that didn’t make it into a bundle are by using Gmail Shortcuts that work in any open email message using either Gmail or Inbox. Learn these four important shortcuts:

  1. Reply r ” to topics or issues that remain unresolved and may require your future attention.
  2. Archive “ e ” or Reply and archive (no shortcut). Emails that require no future attention.
  3. Delete “ # ” (Shift + 3). Delete unwanted emails.
  4. Spam  “ ! ” (Shift +1). The more spam you mark, the more Google learns what is and isn’t spam.


  • If you have an Android device, use the Google Now app to automatically get Inbox snoozed alerts and more!
  • To easily switch between Gmail and Inbox, uncheck this feature in Inbox’s Settings.
  • Gmail
  • Be sure to activate keyboard shortcuts and reply and archive in your Gmail settings.
  • Combine multiple email accounts into one Gmail inbox. For most users with two to three accounts, combining emails into one inbox is a great idea!
  • Advanced users: Use Priority Inbox in Gmail. Since Inbox automatically bundles into categories, there really is no point in using Gmail’s redundant default inbox.
  • My favorite filter will label any email with the words Google Checkout, order, or transaction as Receipts
  • You can easily color code your labels by clicking on the square next to your labels and selecting a color.
  • Google Inbox
  • Check out this Inbox Cheat Sheet
  • Because Inbox is a dynamic website, it will resize according to the size and resolution of your monitor. I recommend using a 20” or larger monitor with at least 1080p in order to use it comfortably.
  • Worry free nuking. If you accidentally nuke your bundle, you can undo it on the bottom left.
  • Because DoughRoller deals with thousands of emails at a time, emailing is the slowest way to get personal finance advice and tips. If you want a faster response, join our Facebook Group to get quick input to your question, instead of emailing us directly.

Google Inbox is the future of email. The more you use it, the more it learns how you use it, and the more it adapts to you. In the near future, there will no longer be manually created filters for bundled emails — Inbox will just “learn” which emails to group together. Until then, use this guide to help get and keep you at Inbox Zero.

Topics: productivityTools & Resources

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