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Inbox Zero - in three steps!

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I used to dread going through my inbox, I would have tons of read emails and hundreds of unread emails. Part of the problem is psychological, I see a big problem and can't figure out how to get through it. Once in a while, I would sit there for hours going through every single email and leaving the ones that need attention in my Inbox, since it still needs my attention. So the next time I review my emails, I once again review all the items in the Inbox, duplicating the work I had done already!

Some time ago, I came across something called Inbox Zero. I read a little bit about it and found some more information on it through Google. Inbox Zero was coined by Merlin Mann, author of 43 Folders website. I learned about it via another blog and checked for other resources and found a video on YouTube . Merlin Mann also follows GTD - a concept that is very popular in the productivity circles. I won't stray too much, but David Allen wrote a book called Getting Things Done and it has a very big following.

I read Getting Things Done some time ago, but thought the concepts were too much to implement. There's a lot of reading on productivity, I read more and more every day. One thing that pushed me to start was Inbox Zero, since it is such a unique concept that I can relate to and easily practice on a day to day basis.

I've taken inbox Zero in the following approach, with only three easy steps!:
  1. Check Emails less often, for me its usually 3-5 times a day, as opposed to several times every hour. Sometimes I do check it a little more often due to work requirements.
  2. Process and Delete. This is the meat of it as I discuss it below. Basically, delete, file or do!
  3. Review - Reviewing the things I still need to do in the Open and Pending Items folder.

Checking emails less often has helped me become much more productive. I won't go into too much detail, but just setting set times during the day that you know you will check emails instead of your usual routine can make a huge difference. For me, it means I can get other work done instead of going through my emails and spending time on more important things that can be done at that moment, such as writing this post!

Processing and Deleting emails makes the bulk of the work in my opinion. It feels good to ask yourself if you really need and email and once you decide you don't, its one less email to review again as it goes to the trash folder. I say process because I may not answer all emails right then and there. For short one sentence replies I usually do so right then and there, and it takes only a few extra seconds per email. For anything that may require a longer response or some thinking to be done on your part, the email goes into an open items folder. My mailbox currently contains only the following folders: inbox, open items, archive, trash.

Now comes review. Once you have processed your inbox to Zero, you are no longer working out of your inbox. This is a great motivating factor since you feel you accomplished something. Reviewing your open items, or whatever you want to name your folder, is the most important part in GTD. Most of the important items you get are in this folder. Things that need your attention and thought will be here. I will not go into further detail since this goes into another concept...Next Actions.

I will write a post on Next Actions soon. Hope you enjoyed this post and found it helpful. Will you give Inbox Zero a try? Can you simplify it more? Do you think its too simple to be effective?

5 comments:

Jennifer said...

This is a very interesting concept. I think I might try to implement it, I currently have 900+ emails in my inbox.

FrugalNYC said...

Jennifer,

I think you will find it very refreshing once implemented. You may be able to use my method or alter it a bit for your own habits. Definitely check out all the resources including the video I linked to. Thanks for your comment and let me know if you have questions during implementation. I'll help in any way I can. You've got a great layout on your blog!

Derek Coatney said...

Thanks for your comments. I like your concise write-up of Inbox Zero as well. I have actually incorporated some of my material into a training I give new hires at my company. The folder that I think that is under utilized is the Waiting folder. It's great to have a location that you can store any email that you know someone else needs to take action, but you don't want to forget about it.

Keep up the good writing!

FrugalNYC said...

Derek,

That is great. Glad to hear you have enough influence in a company to make such changes. I find that unless you are the owner or in a high position at a company, its pretty hard to make such changes. Not impossible, but takes a lot of work, if the environment allows it at all. Good tip on utilizing the Waiting folder. I think I will utilize if once my email volume increases a bit.

Anonymous said...

Next Actions? Part 2?

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