Reclaim dominance over your Inbox
Managing emails efficiently and effectively can be challenging, but with the right methodologies and tools, it is possible to reclaim your inbox and your productivity. By combining the Getting Things Done (GTD), Inbox Zero, and Working Outside the Inbox (WOTI) methodologies, you can increase productivity and decrease your reliance on email as the sole tool of your workday.
Implement the GTD Methodology
The GTD methodology is a five-step process from David Allen that involves capturing, clarifying, organizing, reflecting, and engaging with tasks and commitments. By breaking down complex projects and setting clear priorities, you can process every item in the inbox and to-do list each day, separate next tasks into areas of context for easy reference and prioritization, keep track of delegated or requested tasks, and review lists regularly to stay organized and focused. This will help you manage your email inbox more effectively and efficiently.
- Process your inbox and update your to-do list each day to ensure you’re capturing the most up-to-date items
- Break down complex projects and set clear priorities
- Separate next tasks into areas of context for easy reference and prioritization
- Review lists regularly to stay organized and focused
- Keep track of delegated or requested tasks
Strive for Inbox Zero
Inbox Zero from Merlin Mann is the process of keeping the inbox empty or close to empty using the two-minute rule to take immediate action on emails that can be addressed within two minutes or less, and delegating or scheduling emails that require more than two minutes to address. By embracing Inbox Zero, you can reduce the number of emails in your inbox and focus on the most important ones.
- Keep your inbox empty or close to empty at all times (the definition of empty is perhaps not as clear as you may initially think, as Merlin Mann notes)
- Process every item in your inbox and to-do list each day. Pro-tip: Automate everywhere you can. Use smart filtering or rules to direct newsletters to appropriate folders or labels, advertisements to their own, etc.
- Use the two-minute rule to take immediate action on emails that can be addressed within two minutes or less
- Delegate, set for followup, or snooze emails that require more than two minutes to address
Embrace Working Outside the Inbox (WOTI)
Now that you’re well on your way to getting *ahem* stuff done, and processing your inbox more effectively, let’s talk about actually getting outside of your inbox altogether. The WOTI methodology I adapted from Luis Suarez all those years ago (and continue to live by) involves moving conversations and tasks to appropriate homes, such as wikis, forums, instant messaging, and Zoom calls, to reduce the amount of email. By replying with pointers to the right locations for conversations that have already been set up, you can improve collaborative efforts using tools better suited to the tasks. Notion, Slack, and Confluence are excellent modern tools for creating asynchronous collaborative spaces to discuss complex projects and share information transparently. Using instant messaging and Zoom calls to have real-time conversations can easily reduce the need for lengthy email chains when managed appropriately.
- Stop replying to email. Seriously. The more you reply, the more you receive. Not every email demands your response. Now, of course this doesn’t mean don’t reply to ANYTHING that comes into the inbox, but rather be more judicious in selecting the ones to which you reply. Just stop replying to everything.
- Use the right tool for the right conversation. This means identifying conversations/tasks (use cases) that can be accomplished more easily, more transparently, more efficiently, and with less cost, using a more appropriate social tool. Sometimes that will be email. Most of the time, it won’t.
- Move conversations and tasks to their appropriate home. Slack, Zoom, and even Notion team workspaces are far more appropriate for many conversations that find their way into your inbox. Gently redirect into these better suited tools. This won’t be a light switch situation, rather it will happen slowly and surely with your guidance.
- Record progress, set an example, evangelize, and act as a change agent. This isn’t inherently required but rather added on more for the corporate environment… because without monitoring progress, it is very difficult to show tangible value from what is arguably something which you may need to justify. Additionally, without evangelizing and acting as change agents, we’re just doing this in a silo with no larger cultural effect, which isn’t our intent at all…
Now, by blending these methodologies and tools into your daily routine, you can increase productivity and decrease your reliance on email as the sole tool of your workday. Of course, it is not enough to just be aware of these strategies; you must actively implement them to see real results. There’s enough data and anecdotal evidence across platforms now (some even linked above) that prove the success of these methods. So start today and enjoy the benefits of improved email management, increased focus, reduced stress, and a much smaller inbox… Like any habit, the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see real results.
And always remember: Email is where knowledge goes to die.