Never Lose An Important Email Again
Nov 22, 2010
We've all been in that spot where we need to reference a particular email for school or work. Too often, a stuffed inbox or poor organization system make that all-important message oh so elusive. But what if there was a process for simplifying email and ensuring you can always find what you need? There is, and it's called Inbox Zero.
A New Way to 'Do' Email
Inbox Zero is a revolutionarily simple idea from Merlin Mann, a writer and consultant who provides advice for helping people do their best creative work. Mann maintains multiple websites and writes extensively on technology issues, specializing in providing recommendations for utilizing our time and attention in effective ways that don't undermine productivity.
Email is an area where Mann sees a lot of creativity drain and time loss. Whether it's digging through folder after folder to track down something we need or being constantly distracted by new messages chirping their arrivals in our inboxes, the power of email is fraught with potential productivity perils. Inbox Zero is a simple approach to using email that can allow us to avoid these pitfalls.
Five Options . . . Procrastination Not Among Them
Procrastinating can lead to an unwieldy inbox in a hurry. If you don't have time to reply to a batch of emails, you may leave them sitting there unaddressed. Limited time might not allow you to file away those messages you have dealt with. More and more emails can build up, making your inbox a virtual Bermuda Triangle where messages go missing without a trace.
So how can Inbox Zero help? In basic terms, it's all about keeping your inbox clear of messages. Rather than let emails accumulate indefinitely in an electronic heap, the idea is to 'deal with' every single message that arrives in your inbox. You can help unclutter your virtual life by taking one of five direct, intentional actions with each email.
Delete: This is pretty straightforward - get rid of the junk. Put those forwards of cats wearing hats from your Aunt Sophie in the trash where they belong. If you must keep nonessential items, archive them in a place that's out of the way.
Delegate: If a message isn't in your area of specialty, pass it on to the right person to deal with it. You could send it to a fellow colleague or another student who you're working with on a group project. This can allow everyone to be more productive.
Respond: Also obvious, reply to any questions from others that you can efficiently address. Then move emails out of your inbox. Doesn't it feel great to get rid of those messages? Taking just a few purposeful minutes can do wonders for your focus on other projects.
Defer: If you're not sure exactly what to do with an email, it's okay to put it in a 'defer' folder. This is an option for school or work queries you have to think through or personal messages you don't have time to respond to right away.
Do: Whether it's setting up a group meeting, following up with a potential employer or sending that copy of your resume that you promised, clear out your inbox by taking the necessary action, message by message.
Reliability . . . and Efficiency
The whole point of the Inbox Zero concept is to take the time to 'process' every message you receive. Immediately dealing with emails allows you to also organize them in an effective way. This method can yield unique advantages for students who must stay on top of multiple projects. Job seekers also stand to see their efficiency improve. The process of simultaneously applying for multiple positions can prove a headache with an overflow of correspondence from potential employers and job sites. The Inbox Zero approach allows you to be timely and organized so that no opportunities pass you by.
Inbox Zero is all about deciding in the moment about what you want to do about an email and moving on. Try it. You just may find that you're able to deal with the influx of email more efficiently. And when you need to find that one message, you'll know just where to find it.