Right now - do you have hundreds or even thousands of emails in your inbox? I hate feeling like my main communication channel is a godawful mess. The good news: the road to gmail bliss is easy, just follow me…

Here’s the secret sauce: “Archiving a message” makes it sound like Google is transferring it to a cryogenic freezer in the Nevada desert, never to be heard from again. But the truth is much less dramatic. In this case, the word archive means Please Get This Damn Message Out of My Face.

It just moves the message out of your inbox but it’s still visible, via the “All Mail” folder, and it’s still easily findable, via the gmail search bar.

With that in mind, here’s how to go Marie Kondo on your inbox…

The Trick

Skim every incoming message and classify it into one of three categories:

  1. I should reply to this now - reply now and then archive it!
  2. I skimmed it, got what I want, no need to reply - archive it!
  3. I skimmed it, it’s bullshit - delete it!

That’s the main trick - if you follow those three simple rules, you’ll reduce your inbox size to a single digit and you’ll be the envy of your friends. Here are a few more suggestions…

  • Notice all three items entail skimming. Don’t get caught up in the “I can’t archive it until I’ve read every word” trap. That’s the same instinct that leads you to have 17 books on your bedside table. Skim it quickly enough to decide whether you care enough to read the whole thing. If you do, read it. If not, well, you guessed it, archive it!

  • Getting lots of newsletters or other promotional emails? I know you had great intentions when you signed up but let’s face it - you never read many of these. The unsubscribe button is your friend. Just don’t apply this rule to my newsletter, because it’s amazing.

  • Gmail has a pretty good spam filter but once in a while something sneaks through. Whenever that happens, mark it as spam (that’s the stop sign button with the exclamation point, right next to the Archive button). Google will remember and make sure you never have to see anything from that sender again.

  • Of course, there are exceptions, things that don’t fit nearly into those three categories. For example, I need to do work before replying to this important message and I can’t do that work right now. Star it or put it in a “To Do” folder. If you’re diligent enough with this method, you can even leave it in your inbox, but if you go that route, make sure you never exceed 50 mesages in your inbox. The goal is to always be able to see all your messages in one gmail summary page.


I know what you’re thinking: “That’s great Marc, but I’ve got several thousand messages in my inbox. How do I get from here to there”? There are two ways to go:

  • The easy way: archive your entire inbox. Stop complaining about the incredibly important stuff you’ll miss out on - just do it. If it’s that important, you’ll think of it and pull it up in your All Mail folder. Or someone will remind you. The key is to get that stuff out of your face. Gmail makes this easy by giving you the ability to archive everything in one shot.

  • The hard way: go through your mess of an inbox, star everything you want to save, archive everything, and move the starred items back to your inbox. I don’t recommend this approach because it’s too expensive for the value you get but it’s available for those who can’t handle bulk archiving.

That’s it, if you follow these rules every day, you’ll have a beautifully tidy inbox. How do I know? I’ve had <50 messages in both my home and work inbox for over three years now.