Inbox zero, productivity 1.

Email is something we all use. If you’re not careful, it can easily control your working life. Even the social media obsessed kids are unable to get away from it, thanks to the number of online services requiring email sign-ins, etc. So I thought it might be worth discussing a few aspects of how we use email over the next few days. I will be careful, because I know that many people get very defensive about the way they use it. But that’s what the comments section is for.

First of all, while accepting that many people like to use their email inbox as Mission Control for their working life, how do we stop ourselves becoming slaves to it? I’d recommend reading the original ‘Inbox Zero’ series of articles by Merlin Mann, which are nearly ten years old. They include tips on how to make it easy to respond quickly: having templated answers, not being afraid to say: “I don’t know”, and simply deleting stuff you’re clearly never going to get around to answering. For every email, you either delete, delegate, respond, defer, or do.

If you get into the habit of using this system, you also check your email less frequently, because you only check it when you know you have the time to process it in one of the ways above. Nobody ever expects an instant email response, and it’s not clever to sacrifice your own productivity to do so.

Chris's email inbox zero

Many people have come up with developments to ‘Inbox Zero’ over the years. I’m currently using a system (above) where I have two columns of emails: on the left is my inbox, which I religiously ensure is emptied by the end of each email checking session; and on the right are three groups: “Urgent To Do”, “To Look At” and “Awaiting Reply”. The idea of having a “To Do” list in an email inbox is something which many people dislike, but it works for me.

How do you stop email from running your business life? Or do you not try?

5 thoughts on “Inbox zero, productivity 1.”

  1. I actually quite like the email inbox being mission control for my day to day activities. I work in sales so my day is generally made up of receiving enquiries and responding to them, things that emails are very good for. I can imagine that in different roles a different approach is needed. Some of the engineers I work with make a point of not opening their inbox until designated times during the day so that they don’t become slaves to their emails.

  2. Hi Charles: “Labs > Multiple Inboxes” …then I set it up like this so I can put stuff in the different sections using different ‘stars’.

  3. Thanks for the question Charles. I was wondering the same. Thanks for the post Chris. I will also give this a go!

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