Monday, July 5, 2010

Inbox Zero

When I finished my PhD and was moving in between universities, my dad gave me an invaluable piece of advice.  Until that point I had used whatever university email I had at the time, but when you leave the university, you leave the university email.  He suggested that I get on a generic email host and get an email with some version of my name.  Something professional, he suggested.  You don't want to have to list "ziggy422" on your resume.  Something that your friends could remember and use to keep in touch without having to remember what university you're at doing your postdoc.

So I got a Hotmail account. 

I use it for everything.  Bills, friends, facebook, banking, everything.  The only thing I don't use it for is blog stuff.  Because obviously its not anonymous.

Well, it has accumulated quite a bit of junk mail.  At first I tried opening the email and clicking the "unsubscribe" link, but that just generated more junk mail.

At this point it's too hard to manage deleting all the junk.  The account holds a huge amount of space.  So I don't worry about deleting.  There are over 6000 unread emails.  Yuck.

I've written before about the website 43 folders.  There is a method of time management called Getting Things Done (GTD) based on the book by the same title by David Allen.  One of the things he recommends (not that he's the first, by any means) is the tickler file.  When set up, it is a file containing ... 43 folders.  Hence the blog name.

Merlin Mann, the genius/artist behind the blog, wrote a series of posts called Inbox Zero, which is a method of clearing out your email on a regular basis and forcing yourself to decide what to do with those emails that just sit there.  Do you REALLY need to keep it?  Then file it so you will be able to find it.  Do you need to respond to it?  Do it, then delete or file.  Don't keep it there on the inbox desktop, or you'll get overwhelmed and you won't be productive.  It will get lost in the quagmire, or you'll spend too much time going through messages, or whatever.

I admit, I totally do this with work email.  I leave email just there on the inbox screen.  It's a student email that I should probably keep - at least until the end of the semester.  It's a boss email that I should keep - at least until the end of the academic year.  Rather than file, I just read and move on to the next one.  Sprinkled in there are ones I read and think "yea, I should go to that" or "I should do such-and-so".

I use my planner, so I don't usually forget the things that get lost in all those emails.  But it does take an inordinate amount of time sometimes to find a specific email.  And it's a psychic load.

Today for some reason I ended up back at Inbox Zero.  His first suggestion is to create a new folder and dump all your email into it.  Then start fresh at square one with managing your email that comes in, while you use bits of time to work on going through what you already have.  I decided that it would feel awesome to start going through some of that stupid Hotmail.

They finally have a search box now, so I pulled up all the emails from Amazon, and deleted those.  Then all the emails from another junk sender, and another.  I ended up deleting over 1000 emails in the time I sat there, listening for the baby while she napped.  It's a pretty good feeling of accomplishment to know that you just deleted over 1000 useless emails.  It will feel even better when I'm totally done.

The delete key

Seriously: is this an email you are ever going to respond to? If it’s more than a week or two old, either answer it or delete it now.

If this strikes you as unsatisfactory or feels “mean and icky,” then ask yourself why, precisely, you’re still staring at this message instead of responding to it. Under what conditions, in your mind, will this email magically become more “answerable?”

So why, then, can’t you summon that needed answerability right now and just get the hell rid of it? Yes, exactly.

Delete it, move on, and don’t look back.

Now, about that work email ... Hmmm, wonder if I can set up an email template for student questions ...

He is writing a book about Inbox Zero, and it will have its own website.  I encourage you to read some of his stuff, it's an interesting perspective on clearing out the obstacles to productivity.  He has a video that has a cult following.

Good luck on your own Inbox Zero!


Jannat said...

The way you fought with your own life as a woman I appreciate it and my respect towards you from all the women in the world.Every woman must fight in every moment on her life.She also bear more responsibility from a man.In this regard your experience will surely inspire every woman like me.

Serifm said...

This reminds me of the book "Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui." It primarily deals with physical clutter - junk - but also with mental clutter. The author says that every unfinished project, every looming task, every put-off conversation is a form of mental clutter that attaches itself to your brain and forms a giant cobweb. Eek!

Funky Mama Bird said...

I need to create yet another email account. I have personal and work, and my blog is starting to take over the personal one, filling it up until I can hardly breathe. So I end up deleting waaaay too much in an effort to make it look smaller. Ugh.