It is possible with good workflows, discipline, and deep work to get to inbox zero. That is the good news. The bad news? It only lasts about 10 minutes!
I find one of the biggest things that helps me get to inbox zero is mail rules.
You don’t have to deal with mail you never see
I need to make better use of server-side mail rules. I’ve been unsubscribing to newsletters, deleting and archiving, but I still have to work hard to get back to Inbox Zero. Better use of server-side mail rules will help a lot. I think that will be a weekend project.
I was running Inbox Zero some years back, but decided to give up on it. Managing multiple inboxes using different clients and having different contexts got way too complicated. Also, I never really felt any big productivity win from the accomplishment of getting to zero. So what? The work is still in there (or more often, moved off and added to OmniFocus). For me, it became a self-imposed, non-value adding chore to keep the inbox at zero, so I stopped.
Working as a consultant, I have two work accounts to manage, my employer inbox, and my client provided inbox. Then of course my personal. Now, I’m happy to get to “Unread Zero” at any given point
I get the need to stay ontop of what’s in there so the uncertainty and worry don’t bite you, but this I generally have covered. As an aside, I now work in a huge company with the worst email hygiene I ever have come across, so I rely heavily on my trusted “Delete” button.
I’m not pursuing a program or Inbox Zero per se. I process emails twice a day and I am ruthless in setting up filtering rules, responding immediately if I can do so in 2 minutes or less and in creating tasks for other emails IF they are legitimate and related to my projects. I also have a self-imposed rule as a matter of courtesy and professionalism to respond within 24 hours. Sometimes I wait intentionally for the 24 hours to train others that they should not expect me to drop everything to respond to their emails. I have consulted with many across the country that I find are dropping balls because they use their inbox as a “to-do”/reminder list. I worked with one person whose inbox badge showed 32,000+ emails. I almost went into OCD Arrest! Anyway, I don’t have a goal to achieve the elusive inbox zero–that is a fool’s errand given the constant volume. I am, however, rigorous in being the master of my technology to ensure it is not my master.
Server-side works great but I have also made good use of both Google’s filters and mail client filters/rules. I also, like many here I’m sure, have a “junk” email address. It is the one I use for ALL websites, retailers, etc. Then, IF, I really want to see their emails I create a forwarding email filter/rule. That way, I see their email but they never have my real email address. This cuts out ~80% of the emails I don’t need to see.