Using Gmail filters to get to inbox zero

inbox zero

I’ve been working at (or very close to) inbox zero for about a year now. Anything more than about 10 emails in my inbox and I get twitchy.

In the main I achieve this following an action / hold / waiting labelling strategy that sits well with the GTD approach to productivity.

I also use the filter settings in Gmail to make sure my inbox only contains email I actually need to review now.

Google have a quick intro to filters here, this is how I have mine set up:

1) Any email that contains the word ‘unsubscribe’ should skip the inbox and go straight to a label called ‘newsletters’

This rule takes any email that gives me an option to unsubscribe, stops it appearing in my inbox and places it in a folder for review when I have time.

It catches all the newsletters and sales blah that I never need to see urgently and hides it until I’m ready. Obviously it’s not foolproof, but I tend to review it at least weekly so I’m never too far from an email from someone who inadvertently used my trigger word.

You should use this alongside actually clicking the unsubscribe link in those that you never read.

2) Any email logs skip the inbox and go to a label called ‘logs’

This is probably a bit specific to the IT admin part of my role. I use the same technique to archive all the various email status notifications I get of successful backups, WordPress updates, etc.

I do a bit of fine tuning on these filters to make sure logs containing errors (that I need to deal with quickly) do hit my inbox.

3) Any email receipts skip the inbox and go to archive

I like to keep a record of purchases in my archive, but I don’t need to see them when they arrive. If I need to find them in future for any reason I can just search.

Beyond these three I have a few custom rules in place to catch more specific cases, but for most cases this keeps my inbox nice and calm.

 

GTD on Mac and iOS

I’ve just got back from a couple of weeks of holiday with the family in France. While over there I spent some time implementing a full GTD system (read this book by David Allen if you’re unfamiliar).

I’ve run my email inbox in this style for some time, but as I seem to be getting busier both personally and professionally (and older so worse at keeping things in my head) it seemed to be a good idea to switch fully. The ‘mind like water‘ concept is really appealing- I want to keep on top of everything I have going on, but I also want to be able to relax & not be worrying about it all.

The book is much better at explaining what/why than I would be and is really worth a read if you want to feel more productive. I did want to share a few quick notes on iOS and macOS tools I have found to work well though:

  1. Omnifocus. It’s not cheap (& I got it for macOS and iOS), but it is perfect for collection, organisation and review of projects. Takes a bit of work to set up your projects and contexts but it’s really worth it, I promise. They also have some great GTD specific tutorials to get you started.
  2. Siri. There’s a nice setting in Omnifocus that syncs iOS reminders. Simply shouting at your phone ‘Hey Siri, remind me to do X’ will get the job to your inbox ready for processing.
  3. Captio. I don’t always want to dictate tasks (shouting at my phone on the train seems weird..) so I use Captio on iOS connected to my Omnifocus address gives me the quickest route to get something into my inbox.

I really like the look of Omnifocus on the Apple Watch too. Task alerts on the wrist is another reason not to get the phone out which seems like another step closer towards ‘mind like water’.

If you’re a Mac/iOS user also trying to GTD let me know if you have any other tips to add here 🙂