Saturday, April 28, 2018

Inbox Zero

One of the most important business skills one should develop is managing emails. Dealing with emails helps you stay organized and focused on the priorities. Every business relies on email for communication to some extent.

Email isn't a bad thing, but another way to think of email is "other people's todo list for you". That means that its important to keep your time in your inbox to a minimum and properly prioritize tasks coming out of it.

The problem with not building a system to manage emails is that you end up doing more work. Have you ever noticed yourself re-reading the same email over and over throughout the day? In order to act on an email you have to first "parse" the email and then act. But often times we fail to act so the email is left in the inbox. Later on you go back to your inbox and in order to figure out what to do, you have to "parse" the email again! Thus, if you use your inbox as a todo list, you may end up parsing the same emails multiple times a day.

So the solution is to act. To make a decision on each email as you parse it. Delegate, Do, or prioritize for later. The GTD philosophy is that if you can do the job in 2 minutes, you should just do it right then and there. This is because the overhead of prioritizing will be more work than just doing it. Thus if you can Delegate or Do it in 2 minutes, just do it. For longer tasks that need prioritization or because it is waiting on something or someone, you need to have a separate system.

For those tasks you can either put it on your separate todo list or mark it on your calendar. But make sure you get the email out of your inbox. You don't want to spend any additional attention on that email until you need to. If you use gmail, check out Boomerang. It lets you set a time for that email to come back to your inbox. It also lets you respond to an email right away but send the email at a specified time. Both these let you act on the email and get it out of your inbox.

Even better than quickly parsing through your emails is to not have to parse through those emails in the first place. Don't receive emails that you don't need to see. Consider unsubscribing to all those ads and newsletters. What's the last time you actually acted on one of them anyway? They all contain an unsubscribe link at the bottom (its required by law). If you want a quick and dirty solution, just create a filter matching for unsubscribe and have them skip the inbox.

Create lots of filters. There's a good chance that you act on emails in the same way. For example, maybe you get an automated monthly report of something. You want to see it when you need it, but its not something that you need to act on right way. You should create a filter to send this filter to a label. That way you can easily view this report on your own schedule. Chances are your won't even bother because its not important. If you really need to read this report the put a reminder on your calendar and allocate time for it. When you pay attention you'll find that a majority of your emails are actually automated shit that you can ignore.

Email is here to stay. Chances are you will have a long career which involve working with email as well as your own personal email account. Start developing awareness and a system for managing it. Happy email == Happy Life!