Resolution #3: Inbox Zero, Every Day.

E-mail… I love e-mail. It allows me to process many, many times the number of requests and contacts in a day that a phone call would allow. It streamlines communication and provides an instant archive and transcript of everything said. The truth is, I am addicted to my e-mail (my wife will tell you that at anytime). With the advent of the iPhone and Blackberry, many of us have 24/7/365 access to e-mail. We invent technology to help us be more productive and all we do is work more (but that’s for another post).

E-mail is great. It is also evil. It’s easy to see the message count piling up and get overwhelmed by amount of work those e-mails may involve. It’s important to have a good system in place to deal with your e-mail efficiently.

For me, that revolves around two words: “Inbox Zero”. I was first introduced to this concept by Merlin Mann, author of (a great site for ideas about time, attention and creative work).

The basic idea is that your e-mail inbox was never intended to be a storage place for every message you have received in the past 1,348 days. It is not designed to handle that kind of load and it can really mess up your productivity. The e-mail inbox should be used just as an inbox on a desk is used. It should be a place where things come in and then have one of three actions applied to them. They are either deleted, delegated, or deferred to a task list or calendar.

It sounds simple, but few people I know actually reach inbox zero on a weekly basis, if ever. In the past, I have tried to get to inbox zero once a month and felt really good when it happened once a week.

As a part of Resolution #2 (Read More), I have started reading the book Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst (it’s a part of the Personal MBA reading list). In this book, he talks about how our lives have become less about stacks of paper and more about stacks of bits. The problem with bits, is that they don’t have the same tangible effect as paper. If you had 1000 documents stacked up on your desk, it would be pretty noticeable. Those same 1000 documents are far less noticeable in your inbox. The problem is that the bits still weigh on us mentally and having to back through those e-mails can waste a lot of time.

So what’s the solution? Inbox zero. In Bit Literacy, Mark suggest e-mail users reach for inbox zero EVERY DAY, at least once a day. You might think, how is this possible? My e-mail is like a never ending faucet of questions, notes, memos, and more. The key is HOW we look at the e-mail inbox.

The e-mail inbox is NOT a to-do list, not a calendar, not an address book, and not a filing cabinet. The e-mail inbox is a place where messages come in and are deleted, delegated or deferred to one of the previous mentioned places.

Doing this will make your day happier, more productive, and less stressful.

Resolution #3 for me is to reach inbox zero EVERY DAY.

Soon I will post an article about the tools I use other than my inbox to help keep things organized that come in.

Have questions or ideas about this concept or how I do it? I’d love to hear them, drop me a comment or e-mail.

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