Thursday, November 06, 2008

How to Get Your Email Inbox to Zero Every Day

I've been learning things from Matt Perman about 13 years now. First as a friend in college who was one step ahead of everybody else in learning apologetics and theology--and especially patient with me, who was being tempted toward skepticism. Then as a fellow student at The Bethlehem Institute in Minneapolis. Then as a colleague at Desiring God.

The architect behind the Desiring God webpage, Matt is now senior director of strategy at DG.

Few people have thought more than Matt about how to be productive and efficient, and so I'm glad to see that he's finally started a blog: What's Best Next.

You can read a full summary of his blog, but the quick take it plans to explore "(1) how to best manage our lives and work, and (2) how to best think about the way that the businesses and non-profits that we work for — and communities that we live in — should be led."

In order to keep up with his thinking (which I would recommend!), you can subscribe by email or subscribe in a reader.

His post today is one that I desparately need, and plan to work through systematically: How to Get Your Email Inbox to Zero Every Day.

It's long--but it will be worth your time (and he's also posted a PDF of it if you want to print it out).

Here's the opening:
It is possible to get your email in-box to zero every day, even if you get 100 emails a day.

And it’s not super complicated — though it does take effort and some discipline. But I don’t think that lack of effort has been the main problem. I think the main problem has been not knowing how to manage email effectively.

A lot of people have simply never been taught some of the basic best practices for keeping email under control. For example, most of us fall into the trap of using our email in-box as a small to-do list from time to time (really bad), and sometimes we even end up using our in-box as a holding tank for major project items (far worse).

The result is that we go through the day with the sense of having a thousand “open loops” continually before us.

The goal of this article is to outline some very simple practices that will enable you to manage your email in a way that is effective, simple, and maintains a sense of relaxed control. You should be able to take this article and use it to get your in box from whatever point it is — even if it’s at 15,000 emails — and get it down to zero.

And it shouldn’t take too long (although if you have 15,000 emails, maybe you should just delete everything more than three weeks old and start over!).

And you’ll be able to keep it there. Or, at least, if you don’t keep it there, it won’t be because you don’t know how.


In this article, we are going to cover five areas. By going through these five things, we will go through a process that will enable you to get your email inbox to zero and keep it there. The five areas we will cover are:
  1. Setting up your email workspace
  2. The rules of processing
  3. How to handle the four different types of emails
  4. Email filing (don’t do it)
  5. Staying at zero all day long: how often should you check email?
Read the whole thing!