Carolina VonKampen

Editor. Reader. Writer.

Why I Use Inbox Zero

I hate those red notification flags on my iPhone apps. I hate them. They make me feel like I haven’t tidied up every single aspect of my life.

That’s not the main reason I do inbox zero to control my email, but it’s definitely a contributing factor.

What is inbox zero, anyway? For me, it means that the ideal state of my email inbox is zero emails in it, including read messages.

The main reason I use inbox zero is that it functions as my to-do list. Basically, if an email is still in my inbox, I need to do something about it, whether that’s reply or put info about an event from an email into my calendar. This is a really great way to keep items top of mind. Those emails in your inbox stand there staring at you until you feel too guilty to ignore them anymore. If I write in my bullet journal to follow up on something but then procrastinate on it, there’s a good chance that if I procrastinate on it long enough, I’ll just stop writing it down. (It’s happened way too many times.) But if I keep that email in my inbox, it haunts me until I do something about it and relegate it to its respective folder.

email folders

Utilizing extensive email folders is key to my inbox zero system.

And that’s a key corollary of using inbox zero: Having an organized system of folders to put emails into. Inbox zero does you no good if you can’t find the email once you’ve moved it out of your inbox. That’s why I have an elaborate set of folders and subfolders that I sort emails into. This allows me to feel comfortable moving an email out of my inbox because I know exactly where to find it.

Inbox zero also functions as a sticky note of a select few emails I want immediate access to should the occasion arise. By eliminating the irrelevant or unimportant emails from my inbox, I can quickly find that handful of emails that I randomly find myself wanting to reference. For example, a particularly terrible draft of the first chapter of a fantasy novel written by an acquaintance is still in my inbox just in case I want to show it to someone who doesn’t believe how bad some people’s writing can be.

I’m still trying to figure out the best way to manage my inbox on a day-to-day basis. I’ve tried to train myself to only check emails at certain times of the day, but I usually get curious and want to check whether I’ve gotten any emails about writing submissions or other fun things, so I end up checking my emails whenever I’m bored. On days I can manage to only check it a few times, it takes me just minutes to clean out my inbox and attend to important emails. Either way can be effective if you’re aiming for inbox zero.

I’ll admit, I don’t do inbox zero on all of my email accounts. I do use it on my work email and my main professional email. I send most of my email subscription lists to the Gmail account I created in my teens; I’ve given up on inbox zero on this account because of the time investment it would take to scroll through and delete thousands of the emails I’ve collected in the past few years. But because I hate those notifications (especially 4438 of them), I turned off all notifications on that Gmail account on my phone. This way, the flag notifications don’t haunt me each time I look at my phone, and I don’t get false hope from a banner notification about an email…from Target.

Right now, inbox zero is an effective way for me to stay on top of things professionally; however, I know that as my career grows and my personal life gets busier, I may have to abandon it and embrace the chaos of an untamed inbox. But for now, I’m enjoying my tidy inbox with this system.

How do you manage your email inbox? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I try really hard to keep my work life separated from my personal life, and have never tried inbox zero. Instead I have various folders that I utilize.

    In terms of my private email, I’ve been unsubscibing from irrelevant promotions that take up unnecessary space in my inbox.

    In terms of your professional career, do you find a bullet journal the most productive method? I’ve tried it in the past but end up getting to caught up in spreads when I realize I don’t need to.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • carolinavonkampen

      March 20, 2018 at 10:54 am

      Thanks for commenting! ❤️

      I just went through and unsubscribed from a bunch of companies on my old email account! That’s always a relief. I guess my thinking with inbox zero is that if it’s important, I should be reading it (whether that’s emails from actual people or industry newsletters I’ve deliberately subscribed to); if it’s not important enough to read, why would I delegate it to a folder? I would either delete it and unsubscribe or read it/send it to its folder for safekeeping. I do think folders are vastly underrated when it comes to email management, though—I’m with you on that. They make life so much easier.

      I don’t think bullet journal is the most productive method of anything; but I think that’s the point—to slow down and process info slower and deliberately instead of just typing and clicking. I use the reminders app on my work computer for work tasks, but I use bullet journal lists and such for everything else, including freelancing, personal writing, and stuff around the house. I’m not always great and keeping a paper journal updated, though, but I’m fine with that.

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