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A common New Year’s resolution is getting more organized, and many of us spend more time in our email than in any other application. I’ve long been a fan of the “Inbox Zero” philosophy. It’s easier than you think to accomplish, and these simple tips will help you get there.
1. Rule your Inbox with automate routing
Rules don’t have to be complex, but they can be incredibly good at keeping less important emails out of your sacred inbox. Any aspect of a message can be set for routing. A common rule I recommend setting up is to take those notifications from Facebook, Twitter and other services and put them in a social media folder.
Other easy targets for rule making are any email lists you are on (create a rule to immediately put any message from that list into it’s own folder) or any places you regularly purchase from (create a folder for e-commerce that contains all the emails from your regular purchase places). Apple (s aapl) has a great tutorial here.
We’re all on many email lists, whether by accident or on purpose. All those daily deal sites, combined with the “subscribe to our newsletter” checkmarks you forget to uncheck fills your inbox with unnecessary items. Ideally, you can mark these items as junk within Mail, but the app isn’t always that smart, and providers will change the message slightly over time to trick junk mail filters.
You might be afraid to click unsubscribe for fear that you’ll somehow confirm to a spammer that your email is valid. While that may be correct for true spammers, clicking unsubscribe on messages from reputable vendors won’t put you in danger. Go ahead and click that unsubscribe button, and regain your inbox.
3. Use folders and smart folders to keep things close at hand
The inbox should be used for incoming items only. Once you’ve read it, it’s time for it to go somewhere. If it requires action, create a folder called “take action” and move it in there. If it doesn’t require anything on your part, move it to an “archive folder.”
The only problem I see with a folder is that an email can only be in one folder at a time, but that’s where smart folders come in. For example, if you put all your online purchases in an e-commerce folder that includes your Apple purchases, your Amazon (s amzn) purchases and all that other online stuff. Just create smart folders that filters both Amazon and Apple separately, and that way you can have them in both places and quickly find that receipt.
Moving items into folders is incredibly easy with a little noticed function. When you move an item to a folder, notice on the message menu the “Move to … Again” and the command-option T shortcut. Just press that button to make your message quickly move to the same mailbox you just moved your last message to. Very empowering seeing those emails quickly disappear from your inbox. If you want a few more quick keys to instantly route your messages, create your own keyboard shortcuts using the keyboard System Preferences pane.
Inbox zero is an attainable goal in Apple’s Mail app thanks to the tips above. It’ll still take some time, but the feeling of seeing nothing in the inbox and no number badge in the dock can be quite exhilarating.