Michael Koehler

Exploring the intersection of productivity, technology, and life.

Getting the Inbox from hell to zero

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We’ve all been there.  May be you are there right now.  You open your email Inbox and the feeling of being overwhelmed is so intense, you just want to do anything but deal with it.  Maybe you just returned from a week off, or lots of urgent work left you no time to process email for a few days, either way, you need more than your usual techniques for cleaning up.

This happened to me a few weeks ago, and it was nagging at me.  Part of me needed to get that Inbox to empty, but the rest of me was repelled by the idea.  This went on for several days before I finally got a hold of myself.  I needed a trick, a tool, something more than just the usual start at the top and go one by one.  Finally, inspiration struck.  I noticed one section of my Inbox that had a dozen emails about the same subject, just different people replying to each other.  That wasn’t 12 things, it was one thing.

I created a folder called “! Sort”.  The exclamation point at the front sorts the folder to the top of my folder list where it’s easy to get to.  I then created a sub-folder for each project I discovered as I moved down through the stack of email and just moved the email to that folder.  I had reduced the number of questions to ask about each email to just one: What’s the project?  When I was done I had an empty Inbox, 14 folders under “! Sort”, and a lot of deleted email.  Fourteen is not only a much more manageable number, but those folder names were project names, and I knew from looking at the list which ones were priorities, and which were someday/maybe.

In addition, having that short list enabled me to update my trusted system.  I checked my list of projects in Nozbe and made sure that I had a project for each one of those folders, and that the next action in each one was to process that folder.

With that done, I picked the most important project and went to work.  With an empty Inbox, an updated trusted system, and a clear understanding of what I was not working on, it was very easy to focus on the one project I needed to work on right then.

Try this the next time you can’t bring yourself to empty your Inbox.  You’ll feel great.

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Written by mwkoehler

2011/04/19 at 5:44 pm

Posted in GTD

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