Inbox Taming for Busy People

inbox zero I’ve had my inbox at zero for over four weeks now ( Merlin Mann should be proud). I’ve learned that this helps my all around business processes, because to do this, I had to have a system to account for everything. The way I’ve managed it was a mix of David Allen’s Getting Things Done process, Stever Robbins’ You Are Not Your Inbox program, and simple figuring out what works and doesn’t work for me personally. I thought I’d share my process, in case it might be useful for you.

Basic Move: Have Three Addresses

I have three email addresses: one that I use for conducting general business, one for signing up for various web applications, and one for more important conversations. The first two, I don’t check all day long. I have a few scheduled dips in those boxes to see where things are, and to respond to inquiries. On one of those boxes, I used AwayFind to give people the sense that they can reach me if it’s urgent (so far, the only emails I get from the “urgent” form all say, “I just sent you email.” Grrrrrr!).

On the third email, that’s my business. And so I keep a little indicator light. I don’t read them immediately all the time and interrupt my flow, but I empty that box a few times a day.

Process Once I get Mail

I’ve noticed that I have a rapid flow. Here’s how it looks:

  • Information only mail – absorb and delete.
  • Information I need mail – copy a note into Evernote, which has web access and searching capabilities. Delete.
  • Requests for help – analyze and respond. Delete (or store if I need a record).
  • Mail from the boss – respond and store.
  • “Generic” mail – automate variations on a response, and customize the important bits. Delete. Note: you probably never get the generics. I reserve them for blind PR pitches, weird software companies, etc.
  • Scheduling and task request mail – right into Google Calendar. Tasks into a Google Docs spreadsheet. Web-accessible.
  • To-do mail that’s bigger and long – copy/paste the request into Evernote, store the email address, save the mail.

If You Have 1000 Old Mails in the Box

Go through them 100 or so at a time with the above process. Don’t read the new ones. Just try working through 100 here and there. Schedule time on an egg-timer to take a whack at them. (If you want lots more advice on this area, check out You Are Not Your Inbox, which I really loved.)

I’ve kept my box clean for over four weeks, even when I’m out at conferences and on the road. It’s astounding just how this all works once you practice.

What about you? Any ideas and advice?

These posts are made for sharing. Feel free to repost all or portions of this (as long as it’s not for profit). If you do post it, please make sure you kindly link back to [chrisbrogan.com] and give me credit. Thanks!

Note: I use Skitch to do screenshots. It’s cool.

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  • http://www.rblevin.net RBL

    It’s easy to tame your inbox if you have the right tool: Microsoft Outlook. Yes, that big bad evil company’s product. Anyone who spends the time to actually learn how to use Outlook, beyond the obvious, will find it offers more organizational capability than any Webmail or other client. I have used and tested them all, and speak from experience. I deal with thousands of messages a day and don’t break a sweat, thanks to Follow-up flags, Categories, Group By box, To-Do list, and other highly evolved featured that other tools don’t even approximate let alone feature. Couldn’t do it with any other tool. If you’d like to see how I do it, with only TWO e-mail folders and one e-mail address no less, ping me and I’ll arrange a demo.

  • http://www.rblevin.net RBL

    It’s easy to tame your inbox if you have the right tool: Microsoft Outlook. Yes, that big bad evil company’s product. Anyone who spends the time to actually learn how to use Outlook, beyond the obvious, will find it offers more organizational capability than any Webmail or other client. I have used and tested them all, and speak from experience. I deal with thousands of messages a day and don’t break a sweat, thanks to Follow-up flags, Categories, Group By box, To-Do list, and other highly evolved featured that other tools don’t even approximate let alone feature. Couldn’t do it with any other tool. If you’d like to see how I do it, with only TWO e-mail folders and one e-mail address no less, ping me and I’ll arrange a demo.

  • http://ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    This is useful information, thanks. You show a GMail screenshot above, so is it fair to presume you use one GMail account and filter the other incoming messages?

    How do you get around the GMail limitation of not able to prevent sending “on behalf of” another address? Or do you only reply from one address?

    I used to have about 4+ email addresses, and soon after I moved from Yahoo to GMail (a decision I hated at the time but now don’t regret due to GMail’s amazing spam traps and ability to check multiple POP accounts simultaneously) I set up auto-forwards and away messages pointing everything to one address.

    Because of the spam control, I don’t worry anymore about using my GMail email address on a non-HTTPS form. I don’t show my email address on my blog, though; I use Kontactr for that; gives people a form to fill out and presto!

  • http://www.ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    This is useful information, thanks. You show a GMail screenshot above, so is it fair to presume you use one GMail account and filter the other incoming messages?

    How do you get around the GMail limitation of not able to prevent sending “on behalf of” another address? Or do you only reply from one address?

    I used to have about 4+ email addresses, and soon after I moved from Yahoo to GMail (a decision I hated at the time but now don’t regret due to GMail’s amazing spam traps and ability to check multiple POP accounts simultaneously) I set up auto-forwards and away messages pointing everything to one address.

    Because of the spam control, I don’t worry anymore about using my GMail email address on a non-HTTPS form. I don’t show my email address on my blog, though; I use Kontactr for that; gives people a form to fill out and presto!

  • http://aquaculturepda.edublogs.org/ Sue Waters

    I just tamed my three inboxes (gmail 3000+, home account 1000+ and work account 1000+) to zero over the weekend.

    Personally sorting through 1000 in gmail is too hard — what I did was first look at my emails quickly create meaningful labels to break my emails into categories that would help me manage my work. Then I created filters sort all existing and incoming emails into the labels. Finally I archived all of them. And since then I’ve been actioning all emails immediately then archiving or deleting.

    Off course Outlook was harder. So just set up folders then changed to from and deleted the obvious while filing the rest. And didn’t stress too much if I needed to delete more.

  • http://aquaculturepda.edublogs.org/ Sue Waters

    I just tamed my three inboxes (gmail 3000+, home account 1000+ and work account 1000+) to zero over the weekend.

    Personally sorting through 1000 in gmail is too hard — what I did was first look at my emails quickly create meaningful labels to break my emails into categories that would help me manage my work. Then I created filters sort all existing and incoming emails into the labels. Finally I archived all of them. And since then I’ve been actioning all emails immediately then archiving or deleting.

    Off course Outlook was harder. So just set up folders then changed to from and deleted the obvious while filing the rest. And didn’t stress too much if I needed to delete more.

  • http://omgomgomfg.com AV

    You have no idea how much you have simplified my life turning me on to You Are Not Your Inbox. Thank you SO much, Chris!

  • http://omgomgomfg.com AV

    You have no idea how much you have simplified my life turning me on to You Are Not Your Inbox. Thank you SO much, Chris!

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  • http://otherinbox.com Alex

    Chris,

    This was a great read on how to better organize your email throughout the day. I can say from experience that any way of wading through the loads of messages you get throughout the day is a step towards better productivity.

    I’d like to offer you and your readers a new tool in handling your newsletters/notifications/receipts (going along with your idea of creating an account just for these emails). It’s called OtherInbox.

    By giving the user the ability to create new email addresses on the fly with their own domain name (facebook@you.otherinbox.com, etc…), we can give you the power to manage these emails better. New folders are automatically created for each address so you can better organize your newsletters/alerts/notifications and, if necessary, block an address entirely due to spam.

    Here’s the URL for the invite to our private beta:

    http://beta.otherinbox.com/signup/chrisbrogan

    I hope you enjoy trying us out, and I look forward to reading any thoughts or comments you might have on your blog.

    Thanks!

    ~The OtherInbox Team

  • http://otherinbox.com Alex

    Chris,

    This was a great read on how to better organize your email throughout the day. I can say from experience that any way of wading through the loads of messages you get throughout the day is a step towards better productivity.

    I’d like to offer you and your readers a new tool in handling your newsletters/notifications/receipts (going along with your idea of creating an account just for these emails). It’s called OtherInbox.

    By giving the user the ability to create new email addresses on the fly with their own domain name (facebook@you.otherinbox.com, etc…), we can give you the power to manage these emails better. New folders are automatically created for each address so you can better organize your newsletters/alerts/notifications and, if necessary, block an address entirely due to spam.

    Here’s the URL for the invite to our private beta:

    http://beta.otherinbox.com/signup/chrisbrogan

    I hope you enjoy trying us out, and I look forward to reading any thoughts or comments you might have on your blog.

    Thanks!

    ~The OtherInbox Team

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  • http://www.pmpathway.com/ Project Management

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  • http://www.pmpathway.com/ Project Management

    Great work…. its really inspiring me. Thanks for the info and post.

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  • http://www.project-drive.net Angelina

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