One day I discovered David Allen's book "Getting Things Done" in a bookstore in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That was in 2001 or 2002 and what I learned then has guided my email interactions ever since.
I've learned that I can consistently process my email inbox to zero each day with all work contained therein purposefully processed and stored in my trusted system so that nothing slips through the cracks.
Today I have 41,166 emails filed away in my All Mail folder in Gmail. All actionable information has either been processed for completion or stored for future reference.
An empty inbox is so second nature to me now that I forget that this is not the experience of many people. The stress brought on by unprocessed email is very real and calls for a commitment to a few simple disciplines to push away the night terrors.
Here's how I consistently process the 50-100+ emails I receive each day:
- I commit to keeping my inbox at zero each and every day. I love the feeling of being stress-free and not having anything lurking around that could cause me to miss critical information and fail to take appropriate action. So every 24 hours, I process to zero so I can do other things far more exciting.
- When I open my email manager, I'm committed to processing what's there. So many people snack on their email, avoiding those that require thought and action and opening what seems fun and entertaining. If my inbox is open, I'm processing each email either by answering it (if it takes less than two minutes), by forwarding the information to either Nozbe (www.nozbe.com) for action or to Evernote (www.evernote.com) for reference, or to my calendar so I can make that important meeting when it comes along. Email, for me, is all business and I get in and get out as quickly as possible!
- I delete a lot of emails and know I can set up Gmail filters if I wish to. There's a good filtering system available in Gmail if you want to use your email manager to store reference emails. For me, leaving emails in the black hole that Gmail All Mail means I won't deal with them ever again so I just use Nozbe or Evernote or my calendar instead.
- I unsubscribe a lot. I'm one to quickly sign up for an email, only to discover later on that I really have little or no interest in what the company is selling. Your best friend and mine is the unsubscribe button!
- I turn off email notifications on my computer, iPhone and iPad. While this doesn't really address the above question, it is a helpful habit that frees me from the incessant distraction email brings. I check email about 4-5 times per day: 1) upon rising (just an emergency scan using my iPhone; 2) after I process the first 1/3 of my Daily Routines list; 3) about 30 minutes before I leave the office for lunch; 4) just before I leave work at the end of the day; and 5) I might do an emergency scan about an hour before bedtime. You will not die if you don't check email every 15 minutes; in fact, you might get some work done!
Is Inbox Zero really possible? It certainly is if you develop a few good habits. Try one of mine and see if it helps you find the freedom that Inbox zero brings!