Personal Productivity – Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero BadgeAs mentioned in the previous post, you have to know where your “inboxes” are. E-mail, at least at every company I’ve worked for, is a constant source of input: inquires about action items, notification on the status of certain issues, etc. I’m always amazed that most people 1) don’t at least address every e-mail that comes in and 2) use their inbox as the location for all their e-mail. The philosophy of Inbox Zero is that you address every e-mail in your Inbox every day. As you go through, touch every e-mail only 1 time. Once you’ve read it, you either trash it or archive the e-mail. If there’s an action to take from the e-mail, either do it now if under 2 minutes or add it as an action item to your TODO list. At the end of the day (or several times throughout the day) you will keep your Inbox clean and blank of all incoming e-mails. There’s definitely some satisfaction that comes from getting that e-mail box completely clean.

So, you might be thinking, there’s no way I can go through all the e-mail I get. I get hundreds of e-mails per day. Well, so do I and you are right, you can’t possibly read every single e-mail. So, I use Outlook Rules in order to filter e-mail. I have two folders off my Inbox: “Archive” and “Low”. I use Outlook rules in order to filter all e-mail from particular e-mail lists into the “Low” folder. For example, all the e-mail that goes to everyone in the company or everyone in the studio. The likelihood of important action items coming from those lists is very low. If you use Gmail, there is also methods for filtering incoming mail into a particular label or you could probably train the new “Priority Inbox” feature as those types of e-mails come in. Just because e-mail is going to the “Low” folder doesn’t mean I still don’t address them. However, the way I address them is different. I read who is responding to the thread and what the subject is, if I think I should read it, then I read the thread. Otherwise, I just delete it. I don’t bother actually putting much time into an e-mail that’s in the “Low” folder, but the import thing to understand is, something was done with that e-mail: it was deleted. I threat the “Low” folder as another Inbox and it also gets down to zero by the end of the day.

As mentioned, I only have two folders off of my Inbox when I’m using Outlook at work: “Archive” and “Low”. I put any e-mail that I think I might need to reference later into the “Archive” folder and then use Google Desktop to search that e-mail when I’m looking for something. Google Desktop works in the background to index all of your e-mail and quickly sifts through all of it in order to find what you are looking for. At EA, we are only allowed to keep a certain amount of e-mail up on the server, so we have to create a local Outlook E-mail Archive once an e-mail is a couple of months old. Google Desktop indexes across mail on the server and in your archive, which is very handy. At home I use Gmail and I use the “Archive” button for the same thing. This strips the “Inbox” label, but the e-mail is still available through the “All Mail” link on the side of the screen. Gmail has built in search, which is very powerful and has the same keywords as Google Desktop.

The faster you can get through e-mail the sooner you can get to things on your TODO list. One way I help speed myself up is I don’t remove my fingers from the keyboard, I’ve memorized some of the keyboard shortcuts for Outlook. The main ones I use are:

  • <Ctrl>+<Enter> – Send e-mail – I keep the dialog that pops up just in case there’s something I forgot.
  • <Ctrl>+<Q> – Mark as Read
  • <Ctrl>+<Shift>+<V> – Move to folder – Helps in quickly moving a message to the Archive folder.

I haven’t quite memorized the Gmail shortcuts, but they are available.

If you use Gmail as your primary source of e-mail, you might have fun with It’s basically a game around getting your e-mail inbox down to zero. You have scoring, badges, and leaderboards all around getting your inbox down to zero. I haven’t personally used it, because I just don’t get that much e-mail through Gmail, but I’ve heard it can be quite fun.

That’s it. Hopefully you have found this useful while you are trying to wade through your e-mail. As before, if you have any more efficient method or a process improvement, leave a comment.

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