Inbox Zero

If you’re like me, you check email obsessively. Sometimes you’re waiting for something important, sometimes you’re bored. In either case you should probably be doing something else. Enter Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero is the brainchild of Merlin Mann (great name!), founder of 43 folders – a site dedicated to helping you manage your most limited resource – time.

The video above, which is about an hour long (but worth watching if you have trouble managing your inbox(es)), takes you through his entire system and philosophy. If you’re short on time, it can be summed up fairly quickly:

1. Your inbox is not a task list. Don’t use it as one.
2. Don’t check your email, instead PROCESS your email inbox once or twice a day, and when you do, PROCESS every email so that when you are finished you have an inbox with ZERO unprocessed emails.
3. When processing your inbox, you may only take one of four actions on each email (or thereabouts depending on how you adapt the system). You may: do it (if it takes less than x minutes (generally 2 minutes or less)), delete it (in gmail, archive is pretty much the same since space is virtually unlimited), delegate it (don’t forget to follow up on it if you’re ultimately responsible for the outcome – ie. set a reminder on your calendar), or defer it (if you need to do it but it will take longer than x minutes – this is akin to creating a future to-do list).

For my personal email account, I use a modified system where I have two task lists – one that includes everything I must do (‘Action’), and one that is more like the ‘20% rule’ – stuff I’m interested in but doesn’t matter immediately. Then I set about completing all the of the tasks marked ‘Action’. If I’m bored or need to reinstate flow, I switch to the ‘Someday’ folder and complete whatever tasks I might be interested in, or further archive items if I’ve now decided the item is no longer of interest to me.

The important lesson behind Inbox Zero is that we all need some form of a system to process the information that piles up on our virtual doormats everyday.

What system(s) do you use?