Dealing with E-Mail

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve listened to multiple podcasts (Cortex, Giant Bombcast, …) where the hosts describe how they are struggling with the amount of emails they receive each and every day. To be fair, I definitely don’t get as many as these folks but I was in the same situation for a long long time where my inbox kept growing and growing and I felt really bad whenever I found a week-old email that hadn’t yet get around answering to (which happened far too often).

Luckily, these times have been over for me for some time now and I don’t feel sad about looking at my inbox again πŸ˜ƒ

So … inbox zero all the way. If you’ve never heard of it before, watch this great presentation by Merlin Mann:

(If you already do GTD and Inbox Zero, there is probably nothing new for you here, sorry 😊)

That’s pretty much it for me. The moment (ok, not exactly, but you know what I mean) I get an email, I classify it. I skim over it and determine if it contains information that I might need in the future, then it goes into my enormous “Archive” folder. Does it imply that I have to do something? Then I create a task in OmniFocus. If there is no more useful information in the mail, I simply delete it, otherwise I archive it. Is it a simple correspondence that I can answer within the next 2 minutes or so, I do that and archive the original email right away. If it would take longer, I create a task in OmniFocus again referencing that original email but move that email into the archive. Everything else flies straight into the trash. Every time I leave my inbox again, it should have 0 items left in it.

Newsletters: I can finally subscribe to them again and move every interesting bit of information into Pocket or OmniFocus, then I delete the mail. No hanging around there.

That’s pretty much it! I don’t use folders, tags, labels, or other organisational tools except for legacy mailinglist-subscriptions that I probably simply should get rid of eventually and bills as they are for some reason kind of special to me and travel arrangements. The travel folders are mostly just a backup if both, Dropbox and Evernote, fail me and synchronizing the respective e-mail folder worked for some weird reason…

This also has the advantage that I don’t check my email constantly. I go over the inbox and then I don’t care about it until I get a notification that something has arrived and I feel have I have the time to look at it. If I see it isn’t urgent I postpone that to a later time when I can go through the whole inbox and be done with it again. I can also simply ignore email for a couple of hours without major consequences. Getting the inbox to zero again will take only a very short time no matter what. Life is good πŸ˜ƒ

Don’t get me wrong, though: Getting there esp. with my work-email wasn’t easy. My inbox was filled with mails dating back to 2009 when I joined the company (5 digits …). But once day, after achieving inbox-zero for months in my personal account, I took a couple of hours and sifted through everything. It was absolutely worth it!

How does this work with all the other channels I have at the office (Slack, people just telling me to do things or leaving post-its on my desk)? Quite a lot actually. Everything is just an inbox. Slack notifications are just like an inbox and I treat them as such.

But that’s simply the approach that works for me right now and it may or may not do so for you. An empty inbox helps me personally getting back to work and staying in concentration-mode far longer than a non-empty one. I simply get more stuff done esp. in combination with good old GTD. Mic Wright has a nice post up on TheNextWeb where he goes into this all just being one step in getting more productive again. Just aiming for “Inbox Zero” and being part of that global pissing context doesn’t really help if it doesn’t change your productivity!

It also doesn’t help if you just move actionables into another inbox. The OmniFocus inbox is not an improvement over the Gmail inbox. Tasks that are ordered, categorized and put into the right temporal and spacial context are an improvement!