The 5 Secrets to “Inbox Zero” (condensed)

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In my great job, searching for things that folks want to read, once in a while I come across an item that has the potential to fundamentally change the way I work. This is such an item.

Everyone knows email is a big time-suck, the kind that can easily eat up your life, even if you aren’t one of those who receive 250 emails a day (you know who you are and you need to seek help).

And granted, this isn’t the newest thing out there, but these 5 little steps adapted from Merlin Mann at 43Folders.com have been a huge help in reducing the amount of daily time I spend in Outlook. (If you want to watch his entire talk at Google, it’s here too)

5 Secrets to “Inbox Zero”

  1. Turn off your email. Don’t leave it open. Turn off new mail alerts.
  2. Check less. By increments, if you have to: once per hour for 10 min, working down to twice per work span (morning/afternoon). Manage recipient expectations by never responding too quickly or too verbosely.
  3. Use filters. Have news (aka “high noise” data) automatically sent to a “research” folder and set a reminder to check it once every few days or once per week, depending on its urgency. Eliminate needless news by using Google news alerts to keep it specific.
  4. When you check email, decide an action. Respond, forward, archive, or delete. If it involves a task, do it, defer it (add to calendar), or delegate it. Then delete it. Never use email as an archive of future tasks.
  5. Self-check regularly. Are you processing efficiently and paying less attention to email?
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7 thoughts on “The 5 Secrets to “Inbox Zero” (condensed)”

  1. Embarrassingly simple, deeply needful. “Honoring time and attention… mapping a life that translates into what really matters.” This was about more than email.
    Rich.
    Humble gratitude….

  2. But what about those of us who derive our value and measure our importance in the world through the number of emails we get during the day? We can’t possibly turn off our email notification or check only once per day! :)

  3. I recently identified email as a huge time and energy drain as well as a possible idol so I put limits on it. Much of my job is email so I spend more time on it than most. But I’m now setting aside 30-minute increments a few times a day for it, and turning it OFF in between. I can’t tell you how freeing it’s been! A little difficult sometimes since I’m addicted. But it has really changed the flow of my work day. I now feel proactive rather than reactive. Thanks for the great post!

  4. A footnote in a book I’m reading, led me to this study: “In 80 clinical trials, Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King’s College London University, monitored the IQ of workers throughout the day.
    He found the IQ of those who tried to juggle [email] messages and work fell by 10 points — the equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep and more than double the 4-point fall seen after smoking marijuana.”
    http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/04/22/text.iq/
    Stunning.
    And made me recall your summary post here, of which I have tried to implement, with varying degrees of success.
    I’m with Rachelle: grateful and working it through…

  5. I know why I am addicted to email. It’s where I go to get good news. I want good news. I want good news that relates to me. I pretend that I check so often to take care of business or dispense information or increase my knowledge but really, I know that I check it to see if anyone likes me, likes what I write. Has good news for me. The email inbox is my drug of choice when I want affirmation. It’s not always there, either. So I keep going back to it, a dozen times a day.
    When I’m in write mode, I have to reward myself with email peeks every 500 words to keep myself from dawdling in the Outlook parking lot all day long. A peek, only. Replies are only for when the day’s quota has been met.
    Well, that’s what I say at the beginning of the writing day . . .

  6. As stewards of all God gives us, we certainly take heed for the way we spend our time. I never feel time is wasted, though, when I send someone a word of encouragement. But, all too often I let email pull me away from the task at hand. Grateful for the suggestions here.

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