Over the last couple weeks I have covered some ground talking about various aspects of email. Check part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.
Too much email is now an old cliche and pretty obvious statement, the key question remain then how can you deal with it.
Different people will approach managing email in different ways however there is one method that it’s simple to apply and very effective. The method is called inbox zero and has been created by Merlin Mann based on the principles of GTD methodology.
Inbox Zero is not a magic wand that waves a way all email troubles although I’m sure many people would like that. If you need that try using DELETE key more often. The approach is about making decisions about the content of messages and clarifying the outcomes by regular review of the inbox. Once processed to zero you create a clean slate for new messages to arrive.
As Inbox Zero process takes a lot from David Allen’s GTD methodology there are five stages of the workflow:
Delete/Archive – you first decision should be to decide whether the message should be deleted or archived. By making it first item you gain a lot momentum and cut out a lot of unwanted stuff.
The alternative is to archive if the message might come handy in a simple and flat folder structure.
Delegate – People have different strengths so rather than spend hours sweating over a task, see if there is someone who can do it better faster etc. Even if you’re not a manager see if one of your colleagues is not better suited for this task. Trade something with them. This way both of you would benefit from working of your strengths.
Respond – some things are not worth tracking. If you can respond in 2-4 minutes, do it immediately and have it done. Keeping track of smaller items will take more time and effort that it’s worth.
Defer – bigger items or those where you need to do some preparation should go in your task list. Email is not the only thing you are responsible for so keeping separate list for email isn’t most effective way for managing todos.
Do – When it comes to task execution never work directly from your inbox. Refer to task list a pick an item from there. Once one item is done, don’t check the email just yet, complete two more and then see if new emails have arrived. Since email is only part of your work it should share the same space with other tasks you have to do. This way you can start making progress on things you’ve decided before and not spending time constantly reviewing new emails as soon as they arrive.
If you want to get into more details of the concept and listen to the author, I’m recommending booking some time to watch this video on YouTube.