Your inbox should be zero, that’s why the GTD (get things done) slogan inbox-zero isn’t unfamiliar to productive-, or busy people. Sometimes taking a few dedicated steps to empty that dreaded inbox can have a long term effect.

tl;dr Every so often when I open my mail client I spot a pattern, such as the same email showing up over and over again in my email inbox that I know I will never read. They are a waste of my time and do not contribute to what I want to do in a day. 2016 is one of those years where I deal with the left-overs of what I like to call: persistent unsubscribe.

There are a few rules that I try to stick to when it comes to email. Maybe you can read these and think to yourself: I should do a couple of these as well, I might have less stress trying to spend so much time dealing with replying to everything. Best of luck!

(Rule 0: let Gmail handle spam. They’re the best so far, compared to everything else I’ve used.)

The first rule, and it’s a scary one, but quite liberating:
Email is dead. It’s old, outdated, doesn’t have the features we want, and still doesn’t understand me as a person. So as a result my inbox is cluttered, more than it should be. So to me, email is dead. Replace it with live-chat that works for that person, even if it is a phone call.

The second rule, and this is just as scary:
Don’t open emails you didn’t ask for, or didn’t expect. With a few exceptions. But try to see email as a way to get things done. Not to ask to get more stuff to do. Contact someone if you need to get an answer to a question. If someone has to let you know something I am sure there are more modern ways to do it. It sounds rude, but it really isn’t. They don’t waste your time, you don’t waste their time. You can focus on what’s important. Oh, and especially do not open emails that aren’t plain text.

My third rule, and it requires very little effort:
Don’t reply to emails that do not require a response. You will end up in endless conversations with greets and smileys and goodbyes. The topic has been handled, thanks for the update or notification. Done! Archive or trash it and move on.

The fourth one, and this really comes before the fifth and final email rule:
Organise, yes, this requires effort. Email spam? Make sure they never show up again. Emails you don’t read? (This blog post is about that, I will come back to this). Email just a notification? Trash it! An important notification worth keeping? Archive it. And write a filter to handle ‘alike’ mails in the future automatically. Any email have any important information like an address, a date, an agreement, information, account details, special note? Write it down! Put it in the contacts app, your agenda, your 1Password app, etc. Deal with it, archive it, move on. Don’t even bother replying to them.

The fifth and final rule:
Reply instantly. If you end up with an email that clearly is important, and requires a response, do it now. Any other email that doesn’t require a follow up straight away should have a bloody good reason to require a response later on. But anything that you don’t reply to now will stack up and build up an inbox that’s not equal to inbox-zero.

Personally I consider email to be dead, and I consider it to be a ticket system of todo items. Meet me tomorrow? I will set it in my agenda and confirm the email. The email gets archived, out of sight and out of mind. My agenda will tell me when it’s time to pay attention again. Signed up for something? 1Password will have the details, or I add them. I do not have to reply to this email, I will archive it. If it’s really important I might consider making a folder, tag, or label and make an alike filter so I can quickly find a history of important emails regarding this company or person.

And that’s all there is to it. Everything else I don’t read, I consider unsolicited and spam. And that brings me to this blog post, being a bit dedicated to persistently unsubscribe from the crap that keeps finding its way into my inbox. And writing a filter for it is a patch to the problem, we want a solution.

I value my privacy, so if Facebook tells me I’ve been tagged in something and I can allow or decline this from showing up, I’d like to get a notification to review this. But here’s the thing. Is that worth an email? I open my email client to find important emails. While I value my privacy, this really isn’t what I mean with important. I have the app on my iOS devices, I can check it out as it happens. This requires me to make the effort to go to the site, go through my notification-, and email settings. While I am at it, let’s stop those ‘you received a like’ emails and all the other crap – once and for all.

A daily frustration gets solved by taking a handful of minutes to learn how it works on that site, and think about how I want this to be part of my life.

The same with web site newsletter subscriptions that despite being told that I do not desire to get them – still fucking show up. I will not write a spam filter for this. I will review my account with them. Do I really need to remain a member? If not: get lost! Time to close it and mark their domains as spam. Because from this point on any email is unwanted. If I do wish to stay a member, I have to make the effort to unsubscribe from these newsletters. And I will do what I did with Facebook, go through the other notification-, and email settings. Yes, annoying, but it’s a one-time action that stops this frustration from now on.

By the way, any incoming email that’s a so called subscription but I don’t recognise I am (once) a member of their site/service, etc. They get the spam click. Unsolicited email is spam, even if it’s well intended. Email is dead, find another way to get me to notice your company.

I hope you get the drift, once in awhile I spot the pattern of returning emails that are from a company or a person that I really do not wish to get emails from. And I make the time (once!) to sit down and do my best to prevent this from happening again.

The result? Less frustration of email that I have to double check if it’s real or not, if It’s spam or not, if it’s something that requires my attention or not. I see an empty inbox with maybe 1 or more emails from people I care about – that have something interesting to say, that I can respond to straight away and feel good about. And that means I can close the app or tab faster and focus on what’s on my agenda, and get things done that matter to me for the rest of the year.