Use Yesterbox to tame your email

By 

Tim

 

Metz

 

on 

May 25, 2022

Yesterbox is an email technique from the late Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. The concept is straightforward: instead of trying to keep up with every new email that lands in your inbox today, your goal is to clear out mail from yesterday.

This approach sounds silly, but it’s actually quite powerful: by focusing on yesterday’s emails, you create a finish line—the amount of emails from the day before is finite. Contrast this with responding to every email immediately: you never know how many more messages will arrive throughout the day (including responses to ones you’ve just sent).

Another benefit of the Yesterbox approach is that you give people a response within a reasonable timeframe (12–48 hours) while also training them not to expect instant replies. Email was never intended as a chat-like communication platform, and the tyranny of email largely stems from people using it in that manner. Yesterbox is the perfect antidote.

Hsieh's advanced Yesterbox practices

Hsieh’s original Yesterbox concept has more details, for example:

  • You can't read today's emails until you've answered at least ten from yesterday.
  • You schedule a recurring, daily Yesterbox appointment on your calendar to go through yesterday's emails.
  • You plan time on your calendar for any email that takes more than 10 minutes to respond to.

I don't need these advanced steps and just follow Yesterbox's ground-rule only to reply to yesterday's emails—then I'm done for the day. But whether that's ok for you depends on your work and other life responsibilities that rely on email.

Our visual focus timer app Lifeline is perfect if you want to follow Hsieh's practice of time-blocking a daily Yesterbox slot on your calendar. Lifeline recognizes such calendar events and will remind you to launch your Yesterbox session right on time.

How to setup Yesterbox in Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail

Follow these steps to create a Yesterbox filter in Gmail:

  1. When in Gmail, click the Settings gear icon on the right top of your screen.
  2. Choose "See all settings," then go to the Inbox tab.
  3. Select "Multiple Inboxes" from the "Inbox type:" dropdown.
  4. Take an empty section row and put "older_than:1d in:inbox" in the left Search query column. Name the section "Yesterbox" in the right column.
  5. Scroll down and select "Save Changes."
  6. You'll now see a "Yesterbox" section above your inbox in Gmail.
An animated GIF showing how to setup Yesterbox in Gmail.
This short animation shows how to create a Yesterbox section in your Gmaill inbox.

Starting with Yesterbox in Outlook is simple: collapse the "Today" group of emails in the left panel and you're ready to go.

Here's how to setup Yesterbox in Apple Mail:

  1. Go to Mailbox in the top menu and select "New Smart Mailbox..."
  2. Name the new mailbox "Yesterbox" and make sure "match 'All' of the following conditions" is selected.
  3. Set the first condition's first field to "Date received" and its value to "is yesterday."
  4. Add a condition by clicking the "+" sign to the right of the first condition.
  5. Set the second condition's first field to "Message is in mailbox" and its value in the following field to "Inbox."
  6. You'll now see a Yesterbox mailbox in the left panel of Mail.
An image showing how to setup a Yesterbox Smart Mailbox in Apple Mail
Use the settings displayed in the image above to create a Yesterbox Smart Mailbox in Apple Mail.

It takes a village to create a calmer inbox

Other email crazies can still ruin your calmer inbox aspirations, even while you apply Yesterbox. Say your boss is an Inbox Zero fanatic who responds within minutes and expects you to do likewise. Then religiously following Yesterbox is a sure path to a new job.

Still, Yesterbox can work well, even if you have to make a few exceptions. And the more people that get to know and adopt the practice, the calmer all our inboxes will become. As Hsieh wrote in his post about Yesterbox:

The other great thing about this is that it actually has beneficial network effects… the more people that adopt the Yesterbox technique, the more in control of their inbox everyone will feel!

Other recommended reads on email best practices

Here are a few other Saent articles and community posts on email strategies that you might enjoy: