I've given up on inbox zero -- I now use inbox infinity. Everything stays my inbox unless auto-categorized (mailing lists, specific clients, etc). When I look through my emails, I flag any email I'm not dealing with right now. Otherwise I reply, leave it, or delete it. I archive anything old than 6 months every 6 months.
I suppose, in effect, my list of flagged emails is my inbox-zero but I feel more connected to whole stream of email with the box full. I occasionally need scroll to previous days and glance around.
I also have a Pebble so I'm effectively checking email instantly all the time. I find with the pebble that I dismiss things much more frequently now (emails, texts, and calls). Perhaps because the act of looking at the Pebble is so passive compared to checking my phone or computer.
So what you describe is pretty close already to inbox zero. The last step is to get even more aggressive about archiving things non-to-dos and trusting that archive search box. A truly empty inbox is more important than it may seem - new items are seen by themselves, standalone, instead of as part of existing glut of shit to take care of. And it's good to have the discipline to either commit to an imperative task or just say "no" - either explicitly or via non-response.
I found that it's a disadvantage to not have the stream of activity that Inbox infinity provides. All incoming email is sorted by date so I can always see my activity.
Case in point, unroll.me mentioned in this article has a number of issues   and response of Josh Rosenwald, founder of unroll.me at  dismisses that risk for perceived convenience.
P.S. previous discussion of unroll.me security hole: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7035724
OP, on the other hand, is the founder of Grouper, and presumably gets dozens or hundreds of emails from real people requesting his time, input, or other resources. As such, there's significantly more effort involved in determining that a given email isn't worth responding to.
I don't know what your situation is, but I would imagine OP has significantly more real-person mail than the average HN poster.
Removing all filters and categorization has helped me reach this number, and forced a few habits and mindset changes:
1: I aggressively unsubscribe from mailing lists. If you have to make a filter to automatically archive a mailing list because you never read it but want to keep it just unsubscribe. If you have to, bookmark the site but if you aren't reading it now when will you be?
2: I ask a lot more of the people who email me. If I have partial answers I send those immediately, and if I know I won't get around to it for a while I make it clear that it will take time. I err on the side of archiving unfinished conversations as if it is important most people are OK with sending a follow-up email.
Two questions decide the fate of every email "Is this from a person I know?" and "Will I ever need to search for this?" If both are no, then it's destroyed with reckless abandon. All others are archived immediately. No "read" messages in my inbox, ever. It's either "unread" or it's archived.
I almost always Send + Archive, unless what I sent was "I'll take a look in a couple minutes". And then I Send + Archive as soon as I send the next reply. If it sits in my inbox for over a couple days, I add it to Asana (if I haven't already) and archive the message.
I unsubscribe to almost everything automated (besides my own daily system summaries, which I delete once I've reviewed them).
One thing I would _love_ to have is the ability to set expiration filters on my emails. For instance, I like getting travel deals in my inbox, but I never need them for more than a day (since they generally only last that long anyways). Same for system summaries: Auto-Delete or Auto-Archive after 3 days would be perfect.
Also, since I don't use a local client for email, the "Checker Plus for Gmail" Chrome extension is pretty great, since it shows everything as a unified inbox, and shows me a single "unread" number so I know when I need to dive in and do some triage.
I'm not so sure if I would want to destroy an email with reckless abandon if it's from someone I don't know but who know me. Maybe they want to get in touch about some of my work.
By the way, I liked the idea of expiration filters on emails.
This is a genuine question, please bear with me. I follow several high-traffic mailing lists, and I use e-mail as my primary means of Internet communication, because I started using it back when ICQ wasn't all the rage yet. But they're all tidied up and filtered. Checking my e-mail in the morning takes, what, five minutes, plus 10-15 minutes or so of reading messages from the mailing lists that I actively read because they're really important for my work. Every couple of days or so I spend maybe another thirty minutes skimming the other mailing lists, but an hour of e-mail is pretty much something that I've never done. Do various service-related e-mails pile up, like Facebook's neverending stream of notifications? If so, why is this news-worthy?
I regularly hear about it, and regularly hear that Gmail is particularly adept at dealing with this. I don't use Gmail; I have an old account there, opened when it was still invitation-based because every techie had to have one of course, but I'm not really sure about what else it can do other than, you know, filter messages. Are there any additional capabilities here?
And, Interwebs, please don't take this the wrong way -- I'm not trying to put up the smug l33t h4x0r attitude who doesn't understand how kids nowadays misuse computers, I'm really trying to understand how people use e-mail nowadays.
You sound like you're in a really lucky situation where neither your specific job, not your organisation has a big email culture.
But, for a lot of roles or organisations they use email for distributed tasking. Even in a reasonably small technical team I'd say this is common - so you start receiving email that requires response due to it either being a task or it checking on status on a task.
It becomes even more difficult in situations where your response is required quickly as business is being blocked while you don't respond. A lot of (for want of a better word) middle management roles fall in this category.
There is a bit of the 'hero' problem about email management and far too much "FYI"'ing but it is a real problem. Ultimately, the cost to "send" an email is a lot less than on the X people who you just asked for a reply. So in some senses the impression of zero friction communication is very costly.
i have 3 things that help me keep my mail organized (my startup runs its own postfix+dovecot mail server)
* mail client on dedicated vertical 24" monitor
* procmail (mailing lists, alerts, tickets)
* spamd (spam)
everything else hits my inbox, and if i don't delete a message, it stays there, where it stacks indefinitely.
search bar + at-a-glance view of every important message i've received in the last N days is useful, i'm not really sure where this obsession for having an empty inbox comes from. that would actually hinder my productivity.
lots of ssd + ram = right now there's 29,453 messages (and attachments) in my inbox and it feels great. all of them are marked read.
My inbox is effectively one of my to-do lists. Since I don't cross off everything on my to-do list each day, my inbox usually has a few dozen messages. I have found that when I move an email to a "check later" folder, I never do so.
The social dimension is my reason for pursuing inbox zero. Especially as a founder, it's important a) not to be a bottle neck and b) to respect others by responding promptly.
My work email usually hovers around 5-10 emails in the inbox.
If I only checked email twice per day, I'd just end the day with 500 emails that need responding to all in one bunch. On top of that, many of them would no longer be timely, disrupting other people's days and slowing others down.
Am I alone in thinking like this?
Sadly not. In the corporate world, if an activity doesn't have a timesheet task code associated, it doesn't exist.
Clearing e-mails doesn't have a task code, so effeectively it's a few hours unbillable on top of your working hours each day.
Then don't do it. If that stops other people getting their jobs done, that's not your problem. Trying to fix dysfunctional organization problems with "I will work harder" doesn't get you appreciated, it gets you a ticket to the glue factory. (Reference from Animal Farm by George Orwell.)
for mutt users this is really easy to accomplish even with many mail accounts. create a macro file eg. ~/.mutt/macros:
# have to be sourced on folder hooks
macro index,pager ,a "<save-message>=$my_account_name/archive<return>"
macro index,pager ,p "<save-message>=$my_account_name/pending<return>"
macro index,pager gi "<change-folder>=$my_account_name/inbox<enter>" "Go to inbox"
macro index,pager ga "<change-folder>=$my_account_name/archive<enter>" "Go to archive"
macro index,pager gp "<change-folder>=$my_account_name/pending<enter>" "Go to pending"
macro index,pager gs "<change-folder>=$my_account_name/sent<enter>" "Go to Sent Mail"
macro index,pager gd "<change-folder>=$my_account_name/drafts<enter>" "Go to drafts"
# vim: syntax=muttrc
folder-hook gmail \
set my_account_name=gmail ;\
source ~/.mutt/macros ;\
Marking emails as spam can have a negative effect on the company and, if they didn't do anything wrong, you shouldn't be hitting them with that.
It really helps cut down unproductive emails
Intentdo was created for busy people like yourself and for the minimalists alike. It works outside the scope of email, it doesn't try to solve the 'problem' of email, it simply gives you a different paradigm by letting you ask to be sent intents rather than emails.
Intents are quick and encourage clarity.
Own your time, welcome intents when you want to.
If you choose to answer, a yes-maybe-no does it.
This is intent-like: Intention + 4 actions, 250max
Here's the answer to your main concerns:
1. "Have a method for writing emails (on both my phone and computer) without checking them"
The method is the very intent's format to draft a new intent.
"Without checking them" is the Waiting list where you see (if you happen to open it) whose intents are waiting to be welcomed by you thus unlocking its content. Good thing is, you decide when to.
2. "...triage frequent mail sources that I want records of, but never want in my inbox (e.g. certain reports, shipping confirmations for online shopping, etc.)"
Even though Intentdo is only a week old, we're already working to launch upcoming features that will give you what you could say it's a Pinterest for your Dropbox. Interfacing with email, Intentdo not only will inspect your inbox (with your permission) for the services you're subscribed for and want to get notifications of but will organize your files for you.
I'd love you and everyone here to try and start asking people to send you intents rather than emails. I'd love also to know how you feel about it. To me, it's all about the liberating feeling of coming back to owning my own time, but most importantly, the great calming ripple effect it creates by encouraging clarity through the format which brings people to think thoroughly and edit what they're saying. Three words: Clarity. Integrity. Simplicity.
www.intentdo.com , invite code "replace-emails".
Send me intents at ^frank.
Note: just found out about grouper here. It sounds great.
How I did it: 1) liberal unsubscribe. 2) ruthless delete. 3) scheduled time on my calendar to reply.
I remember on day 26 one message I didn't want to deal with stuck in my inbox. At the thought of breaking the streak I re-read the message and scheduled 30 minutes the following morning to reply.