Inbox Taming for Busy People

inbox zero I’ve had my inbox at zero for over four weeks now ( Merlin Mann should be proud). I’ve learned that this helps my all around business processes, because to do this, I had to have a system to account for everything. The way I’ve managed it was a mix of David Allen’s Getting Things Done process, Stever Robbins’ You Are Not Your Inbox program, and simple figuring out what works and doesn’t work for me personally. I thought I’d share my process, in case it might be useful for you.

Basic Move: Have Three Addresses

I have three email addresses: one that I use for conducting general business, one for signing up for various web applications, and one for more important conversations. The first two, I don’t check all day long. I have a few scheduled dips in those boxes to see where things are, and to respond to inquiries. On one of those boxes, I used AwayFind to give people the sense that they can reach me if it’s urgent (so far, the only emails I get from the “urgent” form all say, “I just sent you email.” Grrrrrr!).

On the third email, that’s my business. And so I keep a little indicator light. I don’t read them immediately all the time and interrupt my flow, but I empty that box a few times a day.

Process Once I get Mail

I’ve noticed that I have a rapid flow. Here’s how it looks:

  • Information only mail – absorb and delete.
  • Information I need mail – copy a note into Evernote, which has web access and searching capabilities. Delete.
  • Requests for help – analyze and respond. Delete (or store if I need a record).
  • Mail from the boss – respond and store.
  • “Generic” mail – automate variations on a response, and customize the important bits. Delete. Note: you probably never get the generics. I reserve them for blind PR pitches, weird software companies, etc.
  • Scheduling and task request mail – right into Google Calendar. Tasks into a Google Docs spreadsheet. Web-accessible.
  • To-do mail that’s bigger and long – copy/paste the request into Evernote, store the email address, save the mail.

If You Have 1000 Old Mails in the Box

Go through them 100 or so at a time with the above process. Don’t read the new ones. Just try working through 100 here and there. Schedule time on an egg-timer to take a whack at them. (If you want lots more advice on this area, check out You Are Not Your Inbox, which I really loved.)

I’ve kept my box clean for over four weeks, even when I’m out at conferences and on the road. It’s astounding just how this all works once you practice.

What about you? Any ideas and advice?

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Note: I use Skitch to do screenshots. It’s cool.

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