Here’s a post on the infamous concept of Inbox zero.
I am talking here about email inbox. Some of the logic here could also be applied to a physical inbox. I recently read again the book Getting Things Done, from David Allen.
While still relevant and interesting, I noted that the books are anchored in the past for me, because they read as if you mostly have physical stuff coming to you and you need one of those old-fashioned inbox. Today, I almost receive nothing through the physical inbox. Even phone voicemail remains most of the time interestingly empty. I can go on vacation, and forget to change back the message when I return, and it may take a month before anybody notice.
So how do we achieve Email Inbox Zero?
I guess everyone has to find a system that works for them. However, I would like to share some thoughts based on my recent experience. I have been working hard during the past months at improving my workflow, including email management. My inbox used to be horrible. I now can say that I enjoy Inbox Zero every day! It helps a lot productivity. It also has the benefit of simplifying things when I look at my inbox. This Inbox Zero results in a more focus approach to each task, and less mental energy consumed on this email management. Less mental energy used on this also means more energy available for intense work. Actually, in a strange way, the structure approach I use now gives me more energy and time for creative work. This is a paradox for some: more structure actually leads to more creativity.
I would like to share here some tips on how to achieve and maintain Inbox Zero. Well, at least, on how I achieve it.
Inbox is not meant for to-dos
You have to stop believing that your inbox is the place to manage your to-dos. Using your email inbox to store everything, receive info and manage tasks to do is the best way to confuse everything. This is like saying that your physical mailbox would the best place to receive and keep all your mail. It would just quickly become full and unmanageable. Nobody would do it with their mailbox for physical mail. So let’s not do this with our inbox for email.
Manage and limit subscriptions
Unsubscribe obsessively from all source of email that you cannot really process or do anything about it. You have to manage the flow of incoming communication. You cannot receive more information in a day than what you can actually manage. While often the intend when you subscribe was good and aligned with who you are and what you want to do, it actually is just disruptive if you cannot process. If you even just have to waste your time deleting these messages, it is even a waste of your precious time.
OK. I repeat here. But this is key to success. This is such a frequent problem. People have too many subscriptions. Again, in the paper world, who would subscribe to more magazines than what they can read? There is no glory in being overwhelmed by information overload. You have to keep unsubscribing until you can get to inbox zero. It may take a while, but please unsubscribe to one per day, until you get to an easy daily Inbox zero. I am not saying that you should delete everything. You can have interests, passions, hobbies, etc. But keep the amount of information received at the level you can actually benefits from. If you never have the time to do anything with the email, you actually have not benefited for it. So unsubscribe!
Daily, not hourly
The goal is to achieve Inbox zero… once a day. It is important for your productivity, but please don’t make it an obsession. You don’t have to fight to keep it as zero every hour of the day. At some point, it is more important to actually do the task, including those contained in those email, than actually manage the email. Email management, just like meetings, can easily because a good way to achieve busyness while not achieving results. So be careful. In the end, it is far more important to complete tasks than anything else.
Cloud Based Apps
For task management, use any cloud based project or task management app. The benefit of syncing information on your computer, web, and mobile device is very important. It is also nice that uncompleted tasks just stick there until resolved. It is also easy to have multiple views on your data. And it is even better if you can add the benefits of team collaboration.
Transfer all tasks to email or calendar
Move all tasks out of the email inbox and put them in your task management app. Some even let you setup an email address that you can use to send the email and convert it to a task. If so, create the email address and add it as a contact.
If it should go in your calendar, put it there. All major calendar apps out there let you add comments or extra information to an event.
Build the habit
Then keep the routine. Building a new habit takes a few days, but once done, it is very simple.
That’s it. It’s that simple. It may take some days to fully convert, but you can get there.
Of the above, I would say that the key elements are
- Don’t manage your to-dos in your inbox
- Unsubscribe, unsubscribe and unsubscribe.
Give it a try! And enjoy the extra energy and enhanced creativity in your days. You can also see the post “Productivity and Email”, published in August 2013.
Michel Dion, PMP, CPA
Founder and Developer of Project-Aria
Discover my book:
Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve Better Results in a Dynamic World