Friday, January 20, 2012

Out of the Inbox

What's that, you ask?  Look closely.  It's my email inbox and it's EMPTY.

I don't think that has happened since I first set up my computer ages ago.  But it's the result of the organizing flurry I'm in these days.  I was largely motivated to search for an email strategy to help Roger, after I set up a new computer for him this past weekend and transferred over his files and installed programs and got it all up and running for him.  He's never found a good email management strategy, and as a result tends to keep everything. I mean, EVERYthing.  (I think I deleted over 500 Land's End ad emails.)  I've tended to file emails away in a file system that makes sense to me -- but still, I'd keep emails in my inbox as a reminder to DO something with them... and then they'd scroll off the screen as new emails came in, and next thing you know, I'd lost track of something.  Out of sight, out of mind, you know.

But somewhere recently I came across a reference to Inbox Zero.  It's a basic strategy developed by a guy named Merlin Mann, and it's about thinking of your email inbox as mail that needs to be PROCESSED, not mail that needs to be handled/answered right away.  It's brilliant.

You can read about it here in a series of articles, and you can watch Merlin's really great video explanation .  It's well worth the time, I assure you.  And it really does make you think about the difference between using your time the way YOU want to, and letting whatever lands in your email inbox control (or derail) your day.  So basically the idea is this:  to set up a few folders for sorting mail, with each folder named by the action required, which will be a VERB.  "Reply."  "Delegate."  "Defer." "Schedule."  That sort of thing.  Then you get stuff out of your inbox by deleting the stuff you don't need and putting the stuff that needs handling in one of the processing boxes. 

And then, you turn to those processing files as you have time.  "Reply" is probably the one that you'll do that same day.  The goal is not to have those files become enduring repositories for dead email either -- they're to remind you what needs doing so you can do it as soon as you can, but without taking time away from the immediate things or the other non-email things you need to do.

I'm feeling rather proud of myself.  From there, I went on to figure out (finally) how to sync all of my mail and my calendar and my to do list between my PC and my Ipad and my Iphone.  So even though I've still got piles of paper on my desk and an overflowing basket of laundry that needs folding, I'm feeling like one little corner of my world is a bit more organized today.

And that makes me happy.


  1. FANTASTIC. CONGRATULATIONS. I'm going to give it a try - as soon as I find time! I moan and groan because I receive almost no e-mail from Friday through Sunday evening, but do I take that time to go back and sort through what I haven't dealt with? NO. Thanks for the tip. By-the-way, the "magic word" for this comment is CROUT - might stand for "clean 'r out"

  2. Diane, I have just followed your example. I feel totally liberated from my inbox (at least one one email account so far - I have four others!)Thanks for the tip.

  3. Congratulations on your empty in box! I find Copernic Desktop Search a very useful tool for quickly finding e-mails, images and other files that I have filed (or misfiled) away in separat folders in various drives on my computer and back up systems. See:

    I also couldn't live without the search function on my Gmail accounts.