I’ve always had trouble effectively managing the flood of email that I receive on a daily basis. I have five primary email addresses to deal with on a daily basis and one that languishes in virtual purgatory. I normally would haphazardly alternate between deleting, archiving, and filing.
I had made the mistake that assuming “inbox zero” was little more than a shirking your responsibilities and deleting all of your email (declaring “email bankruptsy”) and moving on.
However, after watching Randy Pausch’s lecture on time management, when I pondered the concept of “inbox zero,” and where it intersects the GTD universe, it finally clicked:
- The inbox is a transitory bucket that needs to be dealt with and kept clean. Process it down until it is entirely empty.
- Convert e-mail into actionable items. Transfer them to a to-do list and archive. You can always search for them later if you need to go back to them.
- Move documents out of email. Leaving invoices, orders, time sheets, and documents in email just reinforce the habit of keeping email around forever. E-mail is not an effective mechanism to save copies of documents, especially if you don’t trust the IT department.
- Don’t delete, archive.
- As a recovering e-mail hoarder, I would delete email but I was always concerned that I would delete something important, so I started filing the email away. While it was taxonomically satisfying, I would ultimately misfile email. I now archive and have a searchable archive of email.
- If you’ve configured your iPad/iPhone email reader to delete mail, stop and turn on “archive.” This will move the message out of your inbox, but not delete it. Of course, this doesn’t work if you are connecting to an Exchange server, but if your email server is Gmail, then you can archive email which is visible from the “All Mail” filter.
- Turn off the audible email notification. Interruptions are costly.
So here is my new workflow with e-mail:
- Turn email into actionable items. If something comes to me that takes less than five minutes to do, I do it, and then archive the email when I’m done. If it takes more than five minutes, I write a task in my to do list and archive the email. That way email in my inbox represents stuff that needs to be done, which I haven’t tackled yet.
- Bills. If I get a bill that I’m expecting, such as a credit card bill, I pay the bill and archive or delete the notice.
- Shipping notification and order notifications. Often if you order products from various online shopping sites, you will get an order confirmation, and a shipping notice. I immediately archive the shipping notice. If the package is important, I will put the expected delivery on my calendar. If the package never shows up, I can search for the shipping notification and track it.
- Time sheets. I no longer fax my time sheets. I scan and email them. I immediately print the time sheets to NeatDesk and then file them. I archive the email so I can search for the time sheets later.
- Newsletters, solicitations, and press releases. I either read it immediately, or later that day. By the end of the day it is deleted.
And that is how I finally conquered email and simplified my life.