A couple of days ago, Merlin Mann gave us a fresh start for our e-mail. It was a great plan to catch up on the overflowing inbox.
Merlin’s plan? Move all of them to a separate folder that you clean up at your leisure. At the same time, keep your sparkling new inbox empty. You’ve changed nothing for your existing e-mails, but it’s much easier to keep an empty mailbox empty than to work with a constantly overflowing one.
It’s been working like a charm. Since this was posted on January 4th, my inbox goes to empty every single day. And I’ve made a significant dent in my backlog.
Why does it work? Well, absolutes (EMPTY!) are easier to grasp than relatives (oh, it’s ten less than yesterday. Wait. What was yesterdays count again?). Or, in terms of a popular meme, it’s really just another application of the “Broken Windows” theory.
So that was a great step forward for me, but I’ve added a couple of rules to make sure I stay on track.
I only check e-mail three times a day. Mornings for work & private, early afternoon for my work e-mail, in the evening for my private e-mail. I don’t want to spend all my attention on mail, and there’s nothing in my mail that can’t wait half a day.
I still have to keep Outlook running for all the calendar notifications, but e-mail notifications are turned off.
I’ve set up a triple defense line against junk mail. Line 1 is a spam filter at my e-mail provider. Line 2 is a bayesian filter on my local client. After this, there is not much spam left. However, “junk” mail in my book is everything that you don’t absolutely need. That means I’ll do a first pass over my e-mail just deleting everything I’m not interested in.
This prunes it down to a manageable amount of mails.
Any mail I still need gets filed somewhere. If it’s related to a project, it goes into that folder. Technical information I might need again? @Reference. Article ideas – filed as a separate text file. Contact Info? Put it into the address book, right away. Appointments? Moves to calendar.
And, most importantly – anything that needs a reply that takes more than a few lines goes into an @Action folder. My goal at that time is to clear my in-box – if I actually write a longish reply while in the inbox, there will be new messages by the time I’m done with it. This has the potential of keeping you in your inbox for a long time.
If I can file it automatically, it happens automatically. All my mailing lists get sorted neatly by using the rules mechanism.
Yes, there are search engines to help you find your e-mails – but a decent filing system still helps. Search engines return sometimes overly broad results, or take a long time to find things. They are the last line of defense against misfiling.
Result: No pending e-mails.