A few years ago, I had a great idea, inspired by too many days where I fired up Lotus Notes to find several screenfuls of new mail in my inbox, most of which was inconsequential, spam, or corporate spam. My first step was to filter out as much spam as I could; for example, I decided that any mail with more than a couple of non-ASCII characters in the subject was spam, and my filter deleted it before I ever saw it. Similarly, there were spammers masquerading as mailing lists; they were fairly easy to zap, too. (One could ask why IBM’s spam filters let such crap through, but probably not productively, so let’s not, ok?)
My next step was to find as much inconsequential mail (for example, notices from various systems) as I could and shunt it to secondary folders in my mail; I knew I didn’t have to tend to such mail immediately, but I did want it somewhere I’d visit at least every day or so. And I never did figure out how to automatically identify corporate spam, but the volume was relatively low, so I didn’t try very hard.
The system worked pretty well; I had to tweak it every time there was a new version of Notes or a new mail template, but that was pretty easy. And I kept using the system until IBM and I parted ways this spring.
I did the same thing with my Gmail, but it never felt as comfortable or as helpful. So this weekend, I went back to letting all my mail arrive in one inbox; I use filters to mark things like news articles and merchant offers as read, so they don’t affect the unread count in my mailbox and tempt me to open it, but when I do open the inbox, I have everything in one place.
So far, it seems to be working — of course, it requires me to be diligent about maintaining Inbox Zero — but that’s much easier with one inbox than with several.