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The Inbox-Zero Challenge: How long can you keep up your streak?

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The Inbox-Zero Challenge: How long can you keep up your streak?

My guide to achieving and maintaining Inbox Zero.
This doc connects with Gmail and counts your inbox every hour. It will also generate a Wordle report card that you can share with friends to stay accountable. To start the challenge, copy this doc and connect it to your Gmail. Then, track your Zero Inbox streak in .
Start the challenge

It’s not a Wordle!

A few months ago, I set a goal for myself to hit Inbox Zero (zero emails in my inbox) every day. Given how hot the game was, I thought I would visualize it in a similar format. Here’s how I did:
Screenshot on 2022-04-27 at 13-55-03 3.png
Each square represents the state of my Inbox that day:
🟩 = Inbox Zero
🟨 = Less than 100 emails
🟥 = More than 100 emails
In January, I hit Inbox Zero 28 times!

This doc walks through my journey to Inbox Zero, how I use this Wordle-like visualization to keep myself on track, and offers a challenge (and a toolkit!) to all of you to do the same.

My personal journey towards Inbox Zero

Being at Inbox Zero is a key piece of my mental health. When my inbox is at zero, I am more present, more open to new ideas, more attentive. It even carries over to physical health ー I eat better, sleep better, and I am more likely to maintain my exercise regimen. And for me, the Inbox Zero process starts with measurement.
As Peter Drucker says, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.”
I have been tracking my inbox count for almost a decade now ー originally with a manually updated spreadsheet, and gradually with more automated techniques (more on this below). Over time, I’ve made many optimizations, from small to large, to help me achieve this goal more often. Everything from changing my daily email schedule, to refining my filter rules, to sharing this chart with my admin and telling her “if this number crosses 200, cancel all my meetings so I can catch up!”

Get on the scale: An automated solution to put your Inbox Zero measurement on autopilot.

My previous systems were tedious and fragile, so last year I decided to revamp them. I’m sharing this doc so anyone who is interested can use a similar framework for reaching Inbox Zero.
It’s likely no surprise that I decided to do this in Coda. I used the Gmail pack integration to make a doc that automates the whole process. It’s quite simple. Every hour, this doc logs my inbox count. While you can certainly use the graph view, when Wordle came out, I was inspired by their visualizations and found that it was a more visceral way to track my progress.
When I first visualized my 2021 data, I was a bit shocked:

Screenshot on 2022-04-27 at 13-40-22 1 (1).png
Zero Inbox days: 51 days (28%)
Longest streak: 8 days

You’ll notice that last year, I hit inbox zero 51 times, with my longest streak being 8 days. There were long periods where I didn’t come close. For example, March was a tough month because my daughters’ LEGO Robotics team made it to the World Championships and I spent much of the month in prep (as a blessing and a curse, the same thing happened in 2022!).
As I started 2022, I was determined to take better control of this and set a New Year’s resolution to hit Inbox Zero every single day. I didn’t quite make it (I hit 28 days). But that meant that I already hit more than half what I did in all of 2021, so it set the right tone for a much better Inbox Zero year.
So, here’s the challenge: how long of a streak can you build to maintain Inbox Zero?

Ready to start the Inbox-Zero Challenge?

Copy this doc and connect it to your Gmail. Then, track your Zero Inbox streak in .
Start the challenge
If social pressure works for you, post your target on your favorite social media forum, challenge your friends, and respond when you achieve it! And if you need further inspiration, I have a few additional to share.
One of my colleagues (and early beta testers)
@Justin Hales
did a quick recording of himself setting up the system. If you’d like additional help, the Coda team has graciously offered help: .

Frequently asked questions

A huge round of thanks to the following folks for reviewing and contributing to this doc. Their comments have made it immensely better (and any remaining shortfall is entirely my fault!): Ellen Chisa, Rushabh Doshi, Arianna Huffington, Khe Hy, Nick Mehta, Fidji Simo, Des Traynor, and Rahul Vohra.
If you want to contribute comments / thoughts, feel free to click
to see the comment-enabled version of this doc. Here are a few commonly-asked questions I’ve received from early reviews.
What is Inbox Zero?
Literal definition: When your email inbox has zero messages in it.
What it actually means for me: The state where I have processed what others expect of me and can now focus on being present for my goals for the day.

Is getting to Inbox Zero a good idea? Are there downsides?
As I wrote in , everyone works a bit differently — like “Pilers vs Etch-a-sketchers”, I find people who are Inbox Zero fanatics and others for whom Inbox Zero is not at all important.
My guidance: decide which one you are, but don’t be on the fence.
If you’re ok with an overflowing inbox, that’s totally fine. You’ve likely found another way to ensure the right people can reach you and get a timely response, and you hopefully don’t treat your inbox as a ToDo list. I’ve seen some very productive people with inboxes that have millions of messages in them (really!) and while that makes me cringe, it clearly works for them.
For me, Inbox Zero feels similar to having a clean working space. When it’s overflowing, I have a nagging feeling that there’s something I should be paying attention to that I may be missing. That keeps me from being able to focus on the task at hand. David Allen, the author of GTD, describes this state as “Mind like water”.
But the one state I wouldn’t recommend is being halfway. Whenever I see people who feel overwhelmed and frequently behind, I inevitably see them struggling with being half-committed to their treadmill. They say they like to be at Inbox Zero, but don’t really commit. Each day a few dozen emails get added to the pile, and before you know it, you have hundreds of nagging, distracting notes that you feel you should get back to you.
Red pill or blue pill. Inbox Zero or Inbox Million. Just decide which one is you!
I don’t try to get my inbox to zero, but I do something similar (e.g. Inbox Unread count should be zero), is this technique still useful?
Great question! I see this quite frequently, especially the pattern of leaving messages in your inbox but driving unread count to zero.
This doc will actually work fine for this purpose, with a small tweak. Just adjust the query that defines what the
is to be in:inbox is:unread (or whatever your metric is) and the rest of the Wordle charts etc should just work. You can configure this yourself under Rituals 3 in .
If you have some way of managing your piles that isn’t easy to represent as an email query, you might take a look at for a more generic (non-email driven) solution.
Ok I like getting on the scale, but how do I actually get to Inbox Zero?
First off, I do think that getting on the scale is 90% of the job. It’s amazing how much gamifying a process like this can change behavior.
Second, I would suggest holding yourself accountable to someone - send your Wordle summary to a peer, family member, coach, assistant, etc on a regular basis (you can automate that with this doc if you’d like) and let them help hold you accountable. And if you like doing it in public, feel free to post your Wordle scores on your favorite social network.
But if you’re looking for truly practical suggestions for achieving Inbox Zero, I made a list of my favorite techniques in .

Get started → to start your Inbox Zero streak.

P.S. To see other docs from Shishir, check out .
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