Gmail Zero Inbox Setup


emailAs I begun my new job, I moved to Gmail from Outlook. I also upped my daily email barrage.

Zero Inbox suddenly became very relevant again.

Setting up Gmail, I hade these three goals in mind:

  1. Keep the inbox to zero while still using it as a dashboard for things to keep track of.
  2. The ability to send emails to myself as reminders (imho, better than using a secondary todo application).
  3. Make processing information as easy as possible

And this is the prize we’re after:

Woohoo! You've read all the messages in your inbox.

This is what the Inbox looks like with this setup (click the image for a larger version).

Gmail Zero Inbox Setup

The Unread section is the “real” inbox. This, and the mandatory Everything else section, is empty after processing emails.

The other sections are more or less GTD contexts. One for conversations I need to follow up. Another for all other things that need my attention.

Configure Labels, Stars and Filters

Of course you want labels! Personally I have two types of labels:

  • Based on what I want to do with the message: @action, @follow (@waiting-for), @ref, @review. (I also use stars for some contexts, as I will explain later.)
  • Based on the context, project, and so on, where it belongs. For example specific to a team, forum, software release, and so on – depending on what makes sense.

Another lab feature gone mainstream in Gmail is custom stars. Instead of only a yellow star, you can use exclamation marks, question marks, different colored stars, and so on.

Gmail multiple stars setting

Enable this feature from the General tab in Settings. I use the stars in this way:

  • The exclamation mark for things that need my attention, for me to take action.
  • The information symbol for things I should review.
  • The question mark for things needing clarification, where I need to get more information (this is really just another action, and only using the exclamation is probably enough).
  • The yellow star as a “catch all” for things I want in the Starred section, but is related to a label.

The reason why I use stars instead of labels will become clear shortly.

I use filters in conjunction with the setup to accomplish two things:

  • Mark mails sent to myself as an action/todo: this will star it, add the label @Action and mark it as read.
  • Mark mails copied to me as a follow-up item: this will add the label @Follow and mark it as read.

Action Filter

Choose the drop-down arrow right to the search box to show the advanced search options and follow the steps below.

  1. Fill in the From field with your own email address (if you have multiple aliases, make sure it’s the address being used as the from-address.)
  2. Fill in the Doesn’t have field with your email address prefixed with “cc:”
  3. Click the Create filter with this search link
  4. Here, mark Mark as read, Star it and Apply the label: @Action
  5. Click the Create filter button

Follow Filter

This is very similar to the action filter. So, from the drop-down arrow right to the search box:

  1. Fill in the From field with your own email address (if you have multiple aliases, make sure it’s the address being used as the from-address.)
  2. Fill in the Has the words field with your email address prefixed with “cc:”
  3. Click the Create filter with this search link
  4. Here, mark Mark as read and Apply the label: @Follow
  5. Click the Create filter button

Set Up Prioritized Inbox

The prioritized inbox feature groups emails into configurable sections.

Gmail priority inbox setting

The only problem (Google: Fix!) is that the number of sections is limited to four. Otherwise you could, for example, set up one section per label.

This is the main reason why I use stars instead of labels.

The other two sections are “unread and important” and “everything else”.

By clicking the down arrow at the top right of the Everything else section, you can easily archive all items.

Enable Keyboard Shortcuts

This setting is also found under the General tab.

Gmail keyboard shortcuts setting

Once you learn the most important shortcuts, it will really speed up processing emails.

A complete list of the keyboard commands can be found here.

The keyboard commands can be displayed by pressing ? (question mark). So, that’s really the only shortcut you have to remember to start with.


So this is what my Gmail inbox setup looks like at the moment.

Please share your own ideas on how the setup could be improved by dropping a comment below.


  1. Looks like an incredible setup. I am saving this to try to implement myself.

    1. Thanks Gary.

      Make sure to let me know if you have suggestions on how it can be improved.

  2. Isn't this dangerous? You might loose some emails

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