"Inbox Zero," of Merlin Mann and 43 Folders fame, has literally transformed the way I use email at work. No longer are emails read, only to sit in my inbox indefinitely until I "do something" or forget about them--whichever comes first. Instead, Inbox Zero has taught me to process incoming information.
Because it has helped me drastically to get organized and be productive, I thought it might be helpful for some to hear my personal account of what I've been able to stick with and make work on a daily basis.
Processing--not just reading and replying to--Email
The general idea of Inbox Zero is just what it sounds like--keep your inbox empty. I have never been an email deleter and in my pre-zero days, had a consistently bulging inbox due to my fear of maybe needing something later on. Upon starting Inbox Zero, I took my entire inbox and dragged its contents to another folder, giving my inbox a clean slate. Amazingly, weeks later, I realized that I hadn't had to go back into that folder but a handful of times. All of that information I thought I needed "just in case," was really just clogging my access to relevant information.
For me, processing email typically results in one of the following events:
-Complete a specific task if it's something that can be done in less than 2-5 minutes (Merlin uses the 2 minute rule, but I find 2-5 more realistic).
-If it will take more than 2-5 minutes, determine the action steps required and assign them to a specific time or place (see The Email-Paper Connection, below).
-Decide that it's information that needs to be filed separately for reference, and do so.
-Read the information, then delete it if it's nothing I will come back to later.
The Email-Paper Connection
As I go through email, I keep one sheet of paper on my desk, typically divided horizontally in 5 parts, naturally for each day of the workweek. This allows me to quickly build out my workload for the week and how I should prioritize based on deadlines. If a certain task needs further notes or I have ideas to remember, I have a separate sheet of paper just for that specific task. I imagine many people use online to-do lists or some other form of digital time management, but I find that nothing beats a legal pad and pen for top-of-the-mind note taking and quick processing.
Schedule Time for Email
This is difficult for me to do considering my company more often than not uses email in lieu of phone calls or instant messages, but even so, as possible I shut down my Outlook while I'm working on a specific task that needs my full attention. Along those same lines, it follows that time to process email should be an isolated event, not a constant buzz and distraction in the background.
Want to give your email life a makeover? Visit the Inbox Zero site and be prepared to never use email the same way again.