So inbox zero is a beautiful thing, but it is a unicorn for many business people. A unicorn … you know, the mythical creature you chase forever and never catch. Yeah, that’s inbox zero, a great idea that just doesn’t happen very often. For those who aren’t familiar with this fanatical obsession of many an efficient person, the game goes like this (at least for me) –
When I get an email into my inbox, it remains unread until I’m ready to take action on it. Once I’ve read it, I take action and then forget it. If I am unable, for whatever reason, to take the appropriate action on the email, I mark it as unread until I can. Thus when I look at the inbox, the unread messages are tasks, things I need to accomplish. Despite what you may think, this actually puts my mind at ease doing it this way. When I email you, I am giving you the responsibility of the next step in that conversation. I don’t have to think about it until you’ve taken that step and given it back to me. Burning through almost 600 emails daily, it’s the only way to stay sane. So now my gmail is a masterpiece of multiple inboxes and “is:unread in:inbox” type search queries that keep all my to-do’s in focus.
So ever since I was a kid I’ve worked out of one email address. I have dozens of email addys, but they all forward to my one main address. This address is where the ends of the law are answered. It is the alpha and omega of my communication. But wearing many hats with multiple projects, companies, endeavors, ideas, relationships, support, growth, research, etc all being conducted at once, my inbox zero vision has not been seen for years. Literally I’ve been fighting to get things down to 200 or on a great weekend, 100 unreads. I simply couldn’t get to everything before everything was replied to and came back. I think I’ve spent at least 8 hours a day in email for over 2 years, and I still couldn’t get ahead, and with such confusion in the inbox, I was missing things. Things that needed attention were getting put off for months without my realizing it. I was losing the battle.
So I finally figured it out. Kill the funnel.
This may seem obvious, but it has saved my flailing sanity. I finally removed the forwards from my multiple email accounts. My multiple work projects each go to their respective email accounts, my personal to my personal account. Etc. I don’t see them all in my one big well. Seems a bit counterintuitive at first eh’, but it’s not, I promise.
What happens is I get going early in the morning with my personal email. I am able to respond or take action on the things that deal with my personal life. I quickly get back to inbox zero (or as close as I’ll come to it) and then I leave this running and use google’s multiple account sign (just enable in your google ‘acounts’ section – see figure 1) on feature to sign into my first work email and enter work mode. I have about a hundred emails in here waiting for me by morning, but once I hit stride with my responses, I am able to burn through these quickly, and leave labels on emails that are awaiting response from someone else. As soon as I’ve read or labeled everything, I call that inbox zero. I move on to the next one and repeat, until everything is knocked out by 11am. I go through this same exercise 2-3 times a day, but after the morning push, the rest are easy.
The key here is I still have my one or two unread messages and a few tagged for followup, but the few in each inbox is manageable and doesn’t overwhelm, whereas in one inbox it would quickly seem insurmountable and I would become discouraged in the quest for zero.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this move alone has shortened my time spent in my email by almost a third. I get on top of my entire day quicker and am losing fewer conversations. The moral here, good people, is separate your personal inbox from your work/project inboxes, the quality of life improves. I promise.