Inbox Zero is Hard for Me

This year, after I archived my last year's inbox, I decided my email problem was getting worse, not better. “I'm Johanna Rothman, and I have a problem collecting email in my inbox.” I decided to make an effort, one day at a time, to get to zero emails in my inbox. I'm inspired by Merlin's inbox zero.

I did well until yesterday, the first real workday of the year 🙂 When I left my computer for the day, I had 6 emails in it. Since I'd started the day with zero, that was a bad thing. I've really worked at it today, and I'm down to 3. I hope after lunch that I can get back to zero.

I think I have these issues:

  1. I have to know what actions to take on each email. Sometimes, that's not clear.
  2. I have to take that action 🙂
  3. Sometimes, those actions are longer than I want to spend on email.

I might have more issues, but those are the ones that have arisen since Jan 1. Now that I know what hey are, maybe I can address them.

BTW, these are the same issues that managers have with ranking the portfolio. I'm hoping that the measurement chapter will make the actions for managers clearer. Maybe there is something I need to measure for myself…

7 Replies to “Inbox Zero is Hard for Me”

  1. I can’t know for sure but it sounds as though you’re misapplying the inbox zero principle.
    You had 6 emails this morning. reading an email should take a minute or 2 and either go do the task right away (if it takes less than 2 minutes) or reply immediately (if that takes less than 2 minutes) or put it in your system (as reference or task or project).

    So I don’t see how it should take you more than about 15 minutes at most to process all 6 and that is assuming that each contains a less than 2 minute task or reply, otherwise it should take you even less time.

    Also be aware that writing a longer reply (normally, the reason it takes longer than 2 minutes is that you need to look up data or talk to someone or first figure out the answer) it should actually be a project/NA in your system. If you look at your projects list and think you have more important things to do, you can also decide to make replying to that email a Someday/Maybe projects or simply to not reply or to write a short “sorry, i don’t know / have time” reply.

    If you’re gonna spend less than 2 minutes an a mail, just do it.
    If you’re gonna spend more than 2 minutes, you need to consider it a task and put it in your system, where it will be considered as one of the many things you could do. Maybe you’ll see that you have more important stuff to do and eventually not reply or only much later. That’s acceptable. GTD is not about magically bending the space-time continuum or creating more time. It’s about doing the most important first, so in the end there is no regret (You had a limited amount of time and you did the most important things. What else could you have done?)

    I’m thinking this posts is starting to exceed your original post in length (can’t really say because this box is so damn small :P) so sorry for that. Hopefully it’s somewhat helpful 😉

  2. Talking about inboxes for me the biggest pain in the neck are threads where I need some input from someone else and I know I can’t be sure to get without a couple of reminders.

    Since my inbox works as my todo list too I don’t trash those threads and the list tends to grow to something between one and three screens.

  3. I have 1 as well. With e-mail as well as paper. I’ve started scanning paper, but even that piles up (not everything scans as easily).
    Over christmas I’ve been thinking about creating a WTF box, and emptying that every once in a while if I still don’t know what to do with it. And alternatively, spend some 5 why time to figure out why I did not know what to do with that particular thing.
    To me, GTD underestimates the emotional impact that some (a minority, but it keeps piling up) incoming things have – doesn’t stay contained in two minutes but goes half consciously into background processing.

  4. Admittedly, I haven’t read Merlin’s Inbox Zero piece, although I just gave his key points a quick review. With that disclaimer, I’m not convinced that my inbox has to go to zero items.

    My early strategy as a team lead of a development team was to file in folders but it was a large investment of time.

    My recent strategy of late was to have a good search tool and work with three “folders” – Inbox, Sent, and Deleted. In other words, leave it in your Inbox, flag items for follow-up or reference, archive the Inbox every ‘n’ days, and have the archive folders available in Outlook and accessible for smart folders and search functionality.

    For Outlook 2003, the good search tool was Lookout which MS purchased and incorporated into Outlook 2007. In combination with Xobni, a combination of quick searches and flagged items has helped me lessen my inbox admin time, and focus on being able to follow up and access reference items.

    Hope this helps.

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