Last Updated on August 11, 2020 by Bakari Chavanu

Like many people, I have struggled over the years with managing the plethora of emails that show up in my Inbox on a daily basis. For some people, emails are easy to ignore, but for the work I do, emptying my inbox regularly is essential to maintaining good communication with clients, co-workers, and friends.

For well over a decade, I used Apple’s default Mail application, mainly because of its smart mailboxes and smart rules. But unfortunately those features are inadequate for getting my Inbox to zero on a regular basis.

After trying a few other mail clients, I discovered Spark about two years ago, and ever since then I haven’t needed to look any further. I’ve already reviewed Spark, but in this article I’m going to focus on my mail management system that enables me on most days to get my Inbox to zero.

Basic Inbox to Zero Rules

Spark Mail letting me know I’ve emptied my Inbox

There’s no shortage of strategies for managing emails. The Inbox to Zero was once sort of a movement in the geeky tech world. There have been five basic rules for managing emails. They include:

  • Reply to emails immediately if possible.
  • Snooze important based on what needs to be done with them.
  • Delegate emails for other co-workers to handle.
  • Unsubscribe to useless newsletters and promotions.
  • Archive or delete emails as much as possible.

Using Spark, I’ve incorporated the above rules in my email management system because it’s easier to keep my Inbox empty than to allow emails to pile up and not get responded to.

Percentage of time I spend managing emails.

My goal with email management is also to reduce the amount of time I spend managing emails. According to my Timing application (affiliate link), I spend roughly 5% of my productivity time in Spark. According to Timing, out of the 118 hours I spent at my computer last week, almost 8 hours were spent in Spark. On average, that’s about 20 minutes per day. I would love to get that time down to 10 minutes a day.

My Marie Kondo-like System

My system is fairly simple, and that’s why I’m sharing it. I think my system can be used with most any mail client, but the Spark features, as I explain, help a lot. (Note: Marie Kondo is a best selling declutter guru and author.)

When I get to my office in the morning, I typically go through my emails and start deleting or archiving the ones that don’t need to be replied to. That’s really easy. I use a BetterTouchTool Three-Finger Click to quickly delete emails (note: Spark also includes a set of finger gestures and shortcuts for managing emails.)

Most of the emails I delete are product and service sales, requests for campaign donations, and newsletter emails. The email service, Unroll still moves most of my designated emails to a separate folder; however, Unroll no longer officially supports iCloud email. The iOS app Clean Email app has a similar service for unsubscribing to newsletters and filtering emails, but I’m not ready to ready to pay the subscription fee. So I manually unsubscribe to newsletters if I no longer want to receive them.

As I’m working through deleting emails, I focus on the ones that need immediate replies. Typically I reply to one or two emails a day during the week. Spark includes template and quick replies features that sometimes come in handy for certain types of emails. But unfortunately I typically have to write and reply to emails which can be time consuming.

Template quick replies in Spark.

For other emails I need to reply to, I do one of the following:

  • I drag the email to a Reply folder that I review at the end of the week. These emails are not crucial, and they can wait, or even not be responded to.
  • I snooze emails to appear back in back in my inbox at a later date. The snoozed emails are important, but they are not urgent to respond to. I snooze some emails to remind me of a task or upcoming event or appointment.

File Away Emails

About five percent the emails I receive end up in one of my several dozen mail folders. While I could just archive and search for emails, I find that approach too time consuming when I have to do it regularly.

The folder system that I use for my email management system.

I use a BTT Spread With Thumb And 2 Fingers gesture to trigger the Move menu item in Spark, which triggers my long list of folders. Sometimes Spark remembers the folder I saved for the sender of the email and I can choose that folder at the top of the list. Otherwise I need to do a quick search for the folder, and Spark drops it in.

I keep two folders at the top of my list, one labeled Temporary for emails I might review later but will definitely be deleted at some point. And I have a Read folder this is for long emails that I might read on my iPad when I have time.

As much as I love Spark, girlfriend doesn’t have the smart rules featured found in Apple’s less attractive Mail app. But the the web version of iCloud Mail does allow for mail rules, though they are not as complex as the ones in the macOS version.

I use a several rules for automatically moving designated emails to designated folders so I don’t have to manually perform the task. For example, I have several rules for sending emails with the keywords, “receipt,” “Amazon order,” “payment,” and “invoice” to my Receipts folder in Spark. The Receipts folder is near the top of my list, and Spark indicates the number of unread emails in that folder so that I don’t miss reviewing them.

Smart rules in apples online mail client.

You can find the smart rules feature in iCloud Mail by signing into your iCloud account, opening mails, and clicking on the gear button on the bottom-left of the web page.

In the macOS version Apple Mail, the rule for receipts might look like this:

Apple Mail rules.

Okay, I'm so obsessed about getting to Inbox Zero everyday I also use another BTT finger gesture workflow that automatically pins an email, marks it as unread, and sends it to archive folder.

My unread pinned emails get moved to the Archive folder, but they also show up in the Pinned folder which is marked with number badge of how many pinned items are in the folder. The badge reminds me that those emails need to be addressed when I get the time. Before I started using this strategy I would leave these type of emails in my Inbox so I wouldn’t forget to address them. But like I said, I get all Marie Kondo about cluttered inbox, so I’ll do anything to keep those from emails piling up.

What’s Your Email Management Tips

I hope some of what share helps you with managing your emails. And I and other readers would love to hear what works for your in managing emails. Which email client do you? Do you try to empty your Inbox on a daily basis? What are you biggest challenges to managing your emails?

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