The Zen of Zero Mail

You too can have a zero mail inbox, if you choose to.  I chose to go zero mail in my inbox when I first joined Microsoft years ago, and I'm glad I did.  With a single glance, I know whether I have new mail to deal with.  I never have to scroll to see what my next actions are.   At a more basic level, an empty inbox feels good.  I thought it was just me, but others say the same. 

Proven Over Time
It was tough when I first joined Microsoft.  My inbox drove me.  Eventually, I learned how to drive my inbox.  I studied the masters around me.  I also studied those that failed (there's no failure, only lessons.)  I refined my approach over the years.  Since then, I've successfully taught my mentees and others how to spend less time on administration and more time on results.  Now I'm sharing with you.

Here's a short deck that steps you through and highlights the keys:

Normally, I work with my mentees one-on-one and tailor the approach for their particular scenario.  It's a learning by doing approach.  While I've blogged about clearing your inbox before, this is an experiment in how effectively I can share techniques in slides.  If it works out, I'll do additional slides on focused topics.  The more I can reduce friction around sharing, the more I can share.  If you have tips or tricks for improving my slide sharing approach, send my way.

Comments (15)
  1. Mark Curphey says:

    OK sir, It’s midnight here, I am yet again in a foreign lands and unable to sleep because my mail box is full and I cant cope. I can see how to change all of this but the thing I am not sure about if thje copy of important mails. So, read and action then move mail to read folder AND if its important into a filtered additional folder for ordering? How many folders do you have setup?

  2. J.D. Meier says:

    Avoid making any folders for views unless you really need to.

    Remember you have every mail in your one folder now — outside your inbox — so every mail is quick to find.  Rather than keep a heap of mails in your inbox where the signal(action) to noise(reference) ratio is high, you yank the key actions into your tickler list of items.  If you need to refer back to a mail, it’s in your one folder.

    For me, I create folders for key projects, once I find that I have to keep searching for the same set of mails over and over, or that I know I need to keep referring to some for budget … etc.  I think of it as "caching" my views.  I could blow them all away and I’m still fine, since all my mails are still in my main bucket.  The reason why my main bucket is in good shape, is because I routed everything out except direct to me or my immediate world.  This step alone helps cut inboxes to size (though I still get an average of 100-200 direct to me daily)

    One other key — I don’t create a bunch of buckets to fill … I let a bucket fill up, then make new buckets as needed.

  3. Kash Baghaei says:

    Hi J.D.

    I am a PM at Intuit. I have been reading your blog for a long time. Your presentation communicated our points clearly. The screenshots were absolutely helpful to convey your msg.

    I really appreciate that you share your best practices with outside MS. I hope I see more PPT.



  4. Before J.D. I read about a similar idea at 43 folders:

    Clearly great minds come to the same solutions to similar problems.

    I have done the following in order to deal with the information overload. I have the following  folders in my email:

    inbox (empty most of the time)

    outbox (all the mail I have ever sent)

    reference (catch all)

    action (my actionable items)

    reply (emails I intend to reply to)

    I batch process my emails twice daily and stick what is in the inbox into the correct bucket. Then I us my action and reply emails as tasks I need to get done at a later time from the batching. This is the stuff that I will need more time than 2 minutes to complete.

    Dennis Groves

  5. J.D. Meier says:

    Great to hear Kash – I’ll continue to share more slideware / PPTs.

    Dennis – I agree — all roads lead to the same town.   That’s why I’m a fan of patterns and principle-based solutions.

  6. Great thoughts.

    I was starting to feel that I failing at the basics will take me also.

    I tried your approach – key mails & daily tickler gave me a fresh view over my inbox 🙂

  7. Sebastian says:

    Thanks for the great posting!

    I also empty all my mailboxes (my work email account, email accounts at customer’s domains, and my private accounts). However, I only move the mail to the archive folder if there is nothing I can do about it, OR I already finished any necessary actions (e.g. reply).

    But in my opinion it is also important to keep an empty ‘sent’ folder. I regularly move mails from the sent folder into the sent-archive folder if I do not expect the receiver of the mail to answer.

    This has the advantage that you can easily follow-up on emails that haven’t been answered yet.

    Having an empty inbox and an empty sent box makes email communication water proof.

  8. Are you ahead of the game, or falling behind? Are you getting the results you want? As a follow on to

  9. Are you ahead of the game, or falling behind? Are you getting the results you want? As a follow on to

  10. noahc says:

    Hey J.D.,

    I too have an effective system in place for maintaining 0 undread mail.  I’d be interested in your thoughts about it:

  11. J.D. Meier says:

    Hey Noah —

    You’re narrative and walkthrough are GREAT!

    I particularly like how you nailed it here —

    "The key of good e-mail management is being able to respond and take action to mail quickly and not let mail fall through the cracks.  To archive this, I abandon complexity, embrace simplicity, and use rapid aggressive triaging."

    Timely action is the key.

  12. Justin says:



  13. I’m back baby. The university wants me. After all this time. Been thinking about ya. Without you or your skills I would never get this. Take care J.D Meier. Always…

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content