Cool Tool #2: Kill the Tyranny of the Urgent USE Inbox Zero Strategies

This isn't a tool per se, and yet it is. Listening on the plane last week coming back from Maine, I heard a simply transformative podcast. Merlin Man of 43 folders sharing with Google his Inbox Zero Strategy.



This strategy of handling my e-mail has not only made my days more peaceful it has TRANSFORMED ME!!!

Basic principles that stuck with me:

1) Finite Time and Attention
Time and attention are finite and precious. If one looked at my e-mail and my online activities, how would they map to what is important to me?

You have a finite box of time and attention and every time you put a piece of trash box in your bigger box, that means there is something really cool that cannot be put in. Don't be stupid and don't put it in in the first place.

What I did: I use gmail, so I created a folder 2Read. Using the filter assistant, I went through all of my e-mails and filtered everything that is just "newsletters" etc. to automatically go to my 2Read folder, skip my inbox, and apply that to all existing conversations. After I pulled some 1500 e-mails out of my inbox (no I'm not kidding), I went to the 2Read folder and marked them all read. Bam! That felt good.

I now go to 2Read about 2-3 times per week. Why should a newsletter that I should probably be getting over RSS tyrannize me! Kill the tyrant of the urgent!

2. Getting Things Done by David Allen

He mentioned that book over and over. It is time for me to buy that book!

3. Software he recommends

For the Mac is his preferred. He likes the use of templates (prewritten e-mails that you copy and customize a bit.) If I wasn't in love with gmail's search and spam capabilities, I've researched and found that Thunderbird is a great mail platform providing these things. It is free.

I've scoured the net for an easy to use gmail template add in and haven't found one... would love your suggestions.

4. The basic premise of Inbox Zero

E-mail is a tube to get things from one place to another. It is not a task list. (You should keep one written down or handy and in front of you). It should not be your total focus. You should liberate things there and put them in other places where they belong. Write them on your list. Archive them.

Get the inbox down to zero. Everything you do should have one of five responses:
  1. Delete
  2. Delegate
  3. Respond To
  4. Defer (Put it on the To Do List)
  5. Go do it now.
What I did: I made sure I have a to do list handy and I've started hacking away at that inbox like a machete. I have found things I needed to do and issues to follow up with. Hack Hack Hack.

I've even found some money in there for jobs I needed to do... Hack Hack Hack.

I've regained self respect and the frustration of things.

My school e-mail went to zero the first day. I've hacked 1800 unread messages (most were junk) out of my inbox and another 3000 read messages have been either archived or trashed. I have another 1700 unread messages to is clutter that is dragging me down and I will not allow it to.

Hack Hack.... I'm using inbox zero.

5. Solutions for getting started.

He says some people proclaim "inbox bankruptcy" and just e-mail everyone if it was important to remail it ... I'm starting over.

I think this is the cowards way out, myself. I liked his idea of a dividing line. Marking a virtual line in the sand and saying... as of this date, I'm going to have a zero inbox. He then says take everything else and move it into a folder called the DMZ and hack at it daily, while keeping the inbox at zero.

What I did: This is a great idea, however, I'm afraid the DMZ would be ignored (out of sight out of mind.) So, instead, I have jotted a little note in my planner showing how many unread e-mails are in my inbox and every day it must go down by at least 100.

It has decreased much more rapidly, however. It is good to get rid of clutter and be on top of things.
6. How often do I check my e-mail
He suggests that you open your e-mail at certain times during the day. Get rid of the notifiers, don't keep it up all of the time. Close it out and focus and get things done.

I have been doing this for a while and it makes so much sense. It is so easy to ADHD ourselves into thinking we're getting things done. This is why I turned off my twitter notifications... I was to tempted to jump off on a bunny trail.

What I do: I open my e-mail 3-4 times a day at certain times and get it down to zero. I check twitter 2-3 times a day (unless there is a reason to check it more.) RSS reader once a day. Get rid of the tyranny of the urgent. Otherwise, you sit down at the end of the day and wonder where the time went.

Sometimes you've just got to sit down and get it done! I like to take the things on my list that upset me most and do them first. Get it done. That old e-mail that has been sitting there for six months is making you feel like a bad person... liberate your e-mail. Handle it. Take care of it.

Here's my classroom formula for how this works:

Inbox zero = Self Esteem 100

When I teach time management in January, I'm going to teach my students inbox zero. Such a great lifeskill.

Cool Tool Summary
Tool: Inbox Zero
Cost: Free, just some of your time to get started.
Use: A strategy for handling e-mail so that you are not victim to the urgency of e-mail.
Tip: When you first start using it, draw a line in the sand on a certain date and commit to always have your inbox to be down to that date at the end of each day. Check your e-mail at certain times during the day. Keep a list handy at all times to add to.

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