Managing email can be a time consuming and soul destroying task, particularly if you receive a lot of it every day. I’ve never been great at this and have wanted to improve it for ages.
So I’ve been reading some of Merlin Mann’s articles on Inbox Zero which have helped enormously. I also watched this entertaining video of Merlin sharing his tips at a Google tech talk.
There’s a lot of information here, but the main thing I learned was the importance of quickly determining the action required for an email, and doing that action straightaway. Merlin has a five point checklist to help you: Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer, Do.
Since I’ve had them in mind, my email management has improved drastically. I now operate much more efficiently:
- Delete: I delete much more than I used to, even things that I once used to archive I’ve now learned are mostly useless and if I know I’ll never act on them, they go straight in the bin. Within “Delete” Merlin also notes that this applies to archiving too — if the email doesn’t require a response, but you might later need the information in it, then archive it immediately. The point is to get out of the inbox.
- Delegate: I don’t need to delegate anything because I work for myself, so this one’s easy!
- Respond: I respond immediately if the response is trivial. If I need more information to reply (perhaps I need to do some research), then I will…
- Defer: Flag the mail so that I can come back to it at a later date
- Do: If the action required of the email is something I can do immediately, then I do it. Simple.
These 5 things really do help — though they are only going to work if you also create and maintain a schedule for checking your email. I haven’t yet determined what’s best for me, but I’m thinking it won’t be more than three times a day: once in the morning, once at lunchtime and once late afternoon.
It also helps that I recently switched to using Gmail instead of Outlook. Gmail has a much better way of organising mail using labels rather than folders and psychologically this helps too. As I’m no longer seeing a huge list of folders, I’m less threatened by my inbox, and by using the five rules above I can pretty much get my inbox to zero everytime.
Thanks to Merlin for his tips, this has helped me a lot.