Inbox zero and the search for the perfect email client

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Are you the sort of person who needs to read and file every email they get? Or do you delight in seeing an email client icon proudly warning of hundreds or even thousands of unread items? For some, keeping one's email inbox with no unread items is more than just a good idea: it's a way of life, indicating control over the 21st century and its notion of productivity. For others, it's a manifestation of an obsessively compulsive mind. The two camps, and the mindsets behind them, have been a frequent topic of conversation here in the Ars Orbiting HQ. And rather than just argue with each other on Slack, we decided to collate our thoughts about the whole "inbox zero" idea and how, for those who adhere to it, that happens.

Jonathan Gitlin

Back when I had an office job and writing for Ars was a side gig, I was all about inbox zero. We used Exchange in my day job, and I was all about categorizing emails, sorting them into folders, and ruthlessly deleting unwanted messages each day. Some of this might have been brought on by the fact that, by default, we were only given a meagre 250MB storage on the server; learning how to make local archives and backups became a necessity, and in the process you learned to separate the wheat from the chaff. Another factor was probably the nature of my job; as anyone who sits through several hours of meetings a day surely knows, staying on top of one's email becomes a welcome diversion during the many boring bits.

But in the last few years, that all changed, and the real reason was webmail. At first, it was just with my personal email accounts, but the trend accelerated in early 2017 when Ars migrated from Exchange to Gmail. Now, like my personal accounts, I was accessing it via Inbox. This does some things well but, like all webmail interfaces (to me at least), isn't nearly as conducive to a good bit of spring cleaning as an actual desktop application. Automatically bundling emails into groups—Promos, Updates, and so on—kept them out of my way, so in addition to never being read they never got deleted. Before long this all built up; at the time of writing, my personal Gmail account tells me it has 2,661 unread messages. (If you really want a fright, iCloud shows 6,261 unread items!)

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