GTD: Inbox Zero email

GTD Inbox Zero email
If you have email (and the fact that you’re reading this means it’s highly likely you do), one of the best ways you could invest 59 minutes this weekend (or any time, for that matter) would be to watch the web video of Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero talk, which he gave at Google late last month.

Merlin is the man(n) behind 43 Folders, a productivity blog that was among the influences that introduced me to David Allen’s Getting Things Done in 2005. After you watch this presentation, you’ll likely want to learn more about GTD, too. Merlin’s Inbox Zero section on his blog is a great resource, or you can go to David Allen’s site, or buy the book…or you can read more about my GTD experience here.

But this video is a great introduction to GTD concepts and their practical application, because it provides immediately useful tips for dealing with what is the single biggest time drain for “knowledge workers.”

Some of Merlin’s key points include:

  • Process your inbox to zero every time you check it. Don’t just check your email and leave messages in the inbox.
  • Think “verbs” with your email. You should do one of five things to every message in your inbox, and these are in order of desirability.
  1. Delete (or Archive for possible future reference in a single general reference folder)
  2. Delegate to someone else
  3. Respond quickly (five sentences or less, following David Allen’s Two-Minute Rule)
  4. Defer for later action
  5. Do it, or capture a placeholder for future action (put it on your calendar.)
  • Do not use your inbox as a to-do list. If you keep your inbox tidy, it won’t accumulate. If it starts to pile up, the pile continues to grow.
  • Develop The Processing Habit. Aristotle said “We are what we frequently do.” Getting at PDA doesn’t make you more organized. You need to actually apply the system on a routine, habitual basis. Make sure the system you implement is simple enough that you can regularly do it.
  • Do Email Less. Shut your email off for a while. Don’t have automatic minute-by-minute notifications. Check email once per hour at most, so you don’t have interruptions. Or, as Tim Ferris suggests, limit email to twice a day, at 11 and 4. I will have a post later about how Facebook can help make Tim’s tip more practical for people who need to be more immediately accessible, and for whom half a day delay in responding to messages is
  • Develop email templates for your responses. If you are answering the same things repeatedly, develop some core responses or boilerplate.

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Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

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