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A simple way to deal with email

Published on 20 November 2020

I have a process for dealing with email which enables me to achieve inbox zero every time I visit my inbox. I discovered this technique whilst watching a video of David Allen, the founder of the GTD methodology. After putting this idea into practice I’ve found it’s had a positive impact on my peace of mind and productivity.

Clearing the way

The first thing I do when I open my inbox is delete anything I don’t need. If the email requires no action or isn’t something I’ll need to refer back to at a later date, it’s gone. This clears the way so I can focus on what really matters.

Getting organised

Like most people I have labels (or folders) for each ongoing project. This is where I keep all reference materials that I may need to revisit at some point in the future.

The key to making this system work is having an @action label and an @waiting label. The reason for the @ symbol is purely so they sit at the top of my labels list.

Defining actions

As I go through my list of emails I decide whether or not it requires an action. If does and it can be done in two minutes or less, I’ll do it. Otherwise, if that action requires more time or resources than I have to hand, I apply the @action label and come back to it when I can move forward.

Keeping track

Often there is email that will require an action in the future but I’m waiting on something before I can carry it out. For this I apply the @waiting label. I’ll also use this label for emails I send which require a reponse. A bonus tip is to bcc yourself so you can keep track of things.


At the start and end of each day I’ll review the contents of both these labels. Are there any actions I can take care of and am I still waiting on any reponses? Doing this gives me peace of mind so I can switch off at the end of the day and focus my attention on other aspects of my life.

A disciplined approach

For this technique to work you need to have the discipline to review your @action and @waiting labels on a regular basis. I’d recommend doing it at least three times a day. Your mileage may vary.


After working with this method for a few weeks, I can say with confidence that it is incredibly effective. I’ve always kept a fairly tidy inbox anyway, but I often had things waiting around in my inbox that I had no clear idea what to do with.

With this system in place I can start each day with a clear idea of what I need to be working on, and end each day with the peace of mind that I’m already on top of things the next day.