Monday, March 10, 2008

Inbox Zero (aka Email Nirvana)

For the longest time, my email inbox was thousands of entries marked red. Once I got on the ETT train, and began to read more about things to enhance productivity, I dove into GTD.

I tried GTD some months ago using Google Notebook with mixed results. I struggled with having to maintain the app, and moving email info from one message to another was just flat out annoying. So to see more folks talking about GTD as my next step was a bit scary. it still didn't help me from groking our email system which is where "everything" gets done. As an aside, email overload is one of the advantages of implementing RSS technologies to let us know when things we're interested in are updated. But that's a much larger topic.

Inbox Zero is a concept, mindset, what have you on how to manage your email. It's a concept that I discovered by searching the Outlook blogs to find information on how to implement GTD in Outlook. Instead what I found was a way to implement Inbox Zero in Outlook.

Today when I receive an email I go through the following steps:

  1. Is this email related to my job, or is it just noise. If it's noise, delete it.
  2. Is this email related to a project I'm working on, or have worked, or is it informational like an organizational announcement. Categorize it with a category called "Fiserv" ir the project I'm working on.
  3. Determine if this is an actionable item for something I need to do. If it is drag the email to the To-Do bar. Setup a date for completion. If there's something I need to wait on in order to complete this task, mark the task with a category of "@Waiting". Otherwise, do nothing.
  4. Move the email to a folder. Be it a project folder, a folder of all "@Waiting" items, or whatever. Right now I'm using project based folders.

This has been immensely freeing. Now I don't have to sort though thousands of emails to determine if I need to do something. it's now in my to-do bar. It's easier to schedule time to work on a task by dragging the task into my calendar. It is now easier to track down what you've been doing when you go into your 1-on-1s or annual reviews. (Yes, I wish I had started this months ago).

This is the first step on the way to implementing a GTD process. I could go two ways. One way is to drop project categories, which I like since it color codes my meeting schedule (which I now also categorize). The other is to drop project folders and use categories to sort in a @Done folder which contains everything that is completed. Or I could just keep things the way they are now, which isn't quite GTD, but it feels darn close and much better than the mess I waded through before.

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