Inbox Zero

January 26th, 2010 | Work Flow

In college I was always fascinated by work-flow best practices. I spent my first year obsessing over work spaces and learning keyboard shortcuts and gleaning tricks from the pros. You can find stuff that works and fails in everyone you watch work. Everyone has a work-flow weakness, and I quickly discovered that for a lot of people it’s email.

If you follow any web nerds online you’re bound to hear some noise about Inbox Zero now and then. A lot of it is misleading however. When I first heard of it I thought it was the title you rewarded yourself with for battling your way through the clutter, but it’s so much more. Inbox Zero is an approach to email, not a mandate or mandatory goal.

Merlin Mann of 43 Folders (the author of the upcoming book by the same title) spoke on Inbox Zero to Google several years ago after some blogs on the subject got a lot of attention.  The video is nearly an hour long (half of which is a question and answer period, which bears watching), but is a pretty eye opening dose of email rethought.

Essentially it breaks down to the fact that we check our emails too often. If your mail client auto-checks once an hour it quickly adds up to over 20,000 interruptions a year.  To get things done simply close the inbox and work. He goes on to suggest checking the inbox once an hour and blitzing through the messages doing on of five things by way of ‘processing to zero’ and creating actions:

  1. Delete / Archive
  2. Delegate
  3. Respond
  4. Defer
  5. Do

It’s a great message (he goes into more detail in the presentation, and I’m sure he’ll go into even more detail in the book). It’s been a help to me. I have always taken pride in my email netiquette, and have always strove to keep my Gmail inbox with a white space between the oldest message and the repeated nav bar; but in doing so I was spending too much time on email and taking time from more important things; namely doing actual work.

Watch the Video

Or view here.

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