Go Mark All Your Unread Emails as Read

Illustration for article titled Go Mark All Your Unread Emails as Read
Image: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

Nothing in life is as boring as email, so I’ll make this quick: If you want to achieve inbox zero—that is, no unread emails in your inbox—the best way to do it is to just click “select all” and “mark all as read.” Boom, inbox zero.

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Using the “mark all as read” technique is something I’ve been doing for years. Anytime I start to feel like my inbox is getting bloated and mentally burdensome, I just clean house in one fell swoop and allow myself to feel at peace with that decision. Like right now, for example, when my Gizmodo inbox alone has... 31,562 unread emails, including various subfolders that I completely ignore.

This nuclear option likely betrays the entire premise of inbox zero for most people, which, as I understand it, is to read or otherwise deal with ever email soon after they arrive and feel a sense of professional accomplishment and control over your life like a Responsible Adult. But most emails are pointless and irrelevant, not worth any of your time. You know which ones you really need to address, and you probably already did so. If you didn’t, well, go read them now or just say fuck it. Move on. Go tweak your 401k or whatever if you wanna feel like you have your shit together.

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Erasing all your email shame relatively easy on Gmail, and if you don’t use Gmail, well, the instructions are but a quick Google search away for whatever email system you use, I’m sure.

Once you’ve done the deed, you can reasonably tell yourself that you will now keep your inbox at zero for the foreseeable future, which we all know is a lie. Sure, it’ll stay that way perhaps into February. But then you’ll miss a few that arrive right as you head out of town for a digital detox weekend upstate, and then your cat will need to go to the vet, and all those spare moments you would have used for inbox tidying will evaporate and you will have failed.

But so what? Stop being so hard on yourself. “Mark all as read” will still be there to do the thing it was meant to do: give you inbox zero without having to pretend you’re someone you’re not.

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Deputy Editor, Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

“read or otherwise deal with ever(y) email soon after they arrive”

I’m an inbox zero kind of person...but it’s really inbox 10 or less. The focus should be on dealing right away, not reading. The key things I do:

- I maintain a ‘search don’t sort’ approach, so all incoming email goes into one of three or four buckets. One of those buckets is a c-mail folder, and another is a readme folder. c-mail is stuff that I should read, but don’t have to right away. Readme is a folder for all the referential or longer emails that require some brain power to absorb. I’ll review that folder a couple times a month. The key here is that I don’t spend any time at all trying to file something away “in the right folder.” When I receive an email, 9/10 will be moved to another folder without spending more than a second or two on it.

- Automate the removal of newsletters, formed messages, and emails from distribution lists. Important ones can go into the c-mail folder. Most of them can be moved away to another folder and you’ll never notice.

- If I’m not in To:, I move the email immediately to another folder. How much time I spend on it depends on who it came from. But generally, if I’m not addressed, I’m not expected to action, so these are only worth spending time on if there’s something interesting or relevant going on in them.

- Where I’m in To:, email that can be dealt with in less than 2 minutes will be dealt with right away. The rest will go to c-mail, with some staying in the inbox to be dealt with within 48 hours or so.

Everybody thinks I waste half of every day sorting through email because they’ll see I only have 8 or 9 messages in my inbox. Couldn’t be further from the truth. I *might* spend an hour a day if it’s heavy. 95% of the email you receive is crap you never need to see, so I have a system that ensures that I don’t spend time on it.

I should probably go back to the family now.