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SHOW YOUR INBOX WHO’S BOSS
November 19, 2018
Desktop inboxes are as old as . . . well, who knows, maybe stone tablets stacked up back in the day. In theory, an email inbox functions the same way to collect information and tasks to be processed. But the volume and speed of email, and expectations around response time, make it a relentless taskmaster. Learn to control it, or it will control you.
Author of the international best-seller Getting Things Done, David Allen’s work-life management system helps people bring order to chaos. He claims it takes less effort to start each day with an empty inbox than it does to maintain “amorphous blobs of accumulated and unorganized stuff that must continually be re-read and re-assessed.” Sort of feels like he’s hacked your laptop doesn’t it?
His system sounds impossible at first but it actually works off a couple simple organization principles and can help you turn email back into a productivity enhancer rather than overwhelming distraction. Start here:
Schedule Time for Email. Seeing new emails gives our brains a little dopamine rush that’s hard to resist. But that constant checking interrupts thought and decreases efficiency. Turn notifications off while you are engaged in focused tasks and then schedule two or three times during the day where you actually allot time to process emails — not simply click through them only to have to revisit them time and time again.
Delete. Although emails don’t require room in the basement or carting things to storage, they take up psychic space and looking at a stuffed inbox is mentally wearing. Delete when you can.
Use the Two-Minute Rule. If you can process an email the first time you see it in two minutes or less, do it. It will take longer to come back to it, read it again and address it. This will only work if you’re reading email intentionally and at a time and place when you can respond (see rule #1).
File with Fervor. Email is great for reference. That’s fine, but organize them by topic, person’s name or department to make them easier to find manually or with the search function. You would never throw a bunch of unrelated paper documents into one manila folder. Don’t do it electronically.
Organize Based on Next Steps.
If you follow Allen’s first rules to delete, file or finish in less than two minutes, you are left with emails that require greater time and attention and those where you need something from others. He suggests creating a folder titled “Action” and one titled “Waiting.” Then make sure they sit at the top of your folder list so you can review them daily for next steps.
Escape from the tyranny of your inbox, and you will be free to focus on getting the important things done.
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