Inbox Zero alternatives with Apple Mail

I’m not a fan of the Inbox Zero concept. It’s a time-consuming chore which wouldn’t improve my productivity. In this post I’ll explain how I manage my mail. Everyone has their personal mail management style, so what works for me may not work for you. (Working with my clients, I know that it’s rare for someone to change their mail management habits.) Yet, moving away from Inbox Zero can be a time saver.

I don’t manually move my mail messages. This is the primary way I save time. The default location for my mail is the inbox and I feel absolutely no compulsion to move messages to other folders. I have thousands of messages in my inboxes.

I take an action on every message. If I know it’s unimportant, based on the sender or subject, I delete it (or click the junk button) immediately. Otherwise, I’ll read it. For those messages that require further action, I will mark it in some way. If I’m planning on replying soon, I’ll mark it as unread. If the action will be taken more than a day later, I’ll flag it.

I set up rules to automatically move messages from certain senders to their own folders. (Most of these are marketing emails.) I do this server-side, as I don’t want to be reliant on Apple Mail to perform these moves. (Like most of us, I check my mail on mobile devices and Apple Mail isn’t always up and running on my Mac.)

I use the search function built into Apple Mail to find the message(s) I’m looking for. It’s powerful and fast. I’d much rather perform a search when needed, than feel compelled to constantly move messages into folders.

For frequent searches, it’s simple to create a Smart Mailbox. Think of these as folders that dynamically show the messages you’re looking for. The messages shown in a Smart Mailbox will remain in your inboxes. So they aren’t technically moved. For most people, Smart Mailboxes can reduce or even eliminate the need to manually move messages into folders.

To keep my inboxes lean, I periodically sort an inbox by from, i.e., the sender. Then I can quickly delete the messages that I no longer want to keep.

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