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How I got to “Inbox Zero”

Recently, I decided that I should at least try to keep my email inbox under control. I set a goal of looking at every single email that’s in my inbox at least once a week. For the past month or so, I’ve done pretty well. Here’s what I did.

How I Got Started

When I decided to take this on, I knew I couldn’t start with a full inbox. I had tens of thousands of messages in my inbox. Many of the messages were bulk mail from vendors or other mailing lists, a whole lot were automated notifications for systems I monitor at work, and some of them were probably personal emails written to me that I had never seen or replied to. But I had to start somewhere, so I decided to pick a cut off date and simply ditch all the email that was older than a month. I figured if a message was a month old, and I hadn’t yet seen or replied to it, that it probably wasn’t relevant any longer. If it was relevant, I figured it would come back.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw the emails away, so I created a new folder called “To Be Reviewed,” and I moved all the older email to that folder. This way, I could convince myself that the emails were there if I ever decided to go back and review them. Even though I knew that was never going to happen, it made me feel better about the whole process.

Once I had only a month’s worth of emails in my inbox, the task felt manageable. I set aside a few hours early one morning, and I went at it.

How I Keep Up to Date

There are a few things I do to keep my inbox under control.

Use Flags

Throughout my week, I often open emails that need followup but I can’t get to them right when I first see them. Instead of leaving those messages in my inbox, I “flag” them for followup and then file them in my archived mail folder. The mail doesn’t stay in my inbox, but it’s really easy to show a list of flagged email that need followup when I have a chance to reply to them.

Sort By Sender

During my weekly inbox cleanup, I first tried to sort the messages by date (because it seems logical, right?). After a few minutes, I realized that sorting by the sender of the message helps me cut through the messages faster. If I have multiple messages from a single source, they all show up next to each other, and it’s really easy for me to make a single decision about all of the messages at once.

Use the One-Click Archive Button

In the Mail application on OS X, there’s an “Archive” button. I had to add it to my tool bar (right-click > Customize Toolbar), but now it’s really easy to file a message. With a single click, the email leaves my inbox and goes to my Archived Mail folder. Voila!

Unsubscribe First

Before I read through the messages, I search my inbox for the word “Unsubscribe”. This shows me most of the bulk messages in my inbox. I spend a few minutes unsubscribing from as many of them as I can before I manually sort through the rest of the legitimate mail in my inbox.

Use Smart Folders

I created a few “Smart Folders” in my Mac OS X Mail program. This makes it easier to see, with a single click: flagged mail, mail in my inbox, unread mail, mail that contains “Unsubscribe”, mail from a particular address, etc.

Failure Will Happen

Like I said earlier, I try to keep my inbox at zero by going through the messages at least once a week. I’m not perfect, and I’m sure I’ll fall behind again soon enough. I won’t be afraid to cut bait and move all the old email into my Archive folder without reviewing it so that I have a fighting chance of actually getting through the inbox.

Do you have any tips for keeping your inbox at zero?

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How to provide great phone support

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Sometimes, I take a few minutes to listen to some of the calls we’ve taken to be sure we’re providing great customer service. I’ve developed a few thoughts on how to provide great phone support.

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FancyHands now has an iPhone app! I can create requests by recording a quick note. Awesome!

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I love FancyHands! They help me research, schedule appointments, and take over all sorts of tasks for me.

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This podcast has some great tips for blogging.

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Dreaming and Doing

I love to dream, and I love to do. And my best works come when I do what I dream.

Sometimes I dream without doing. That’s fun, and, sometimes it even serves me well. Undone dreams often lead to bigger and better undone dreams, and eventually one of these really big and best dreams gets done.

Sometimes I do without dreaming. Everyone can do this, though. When I do things devoid of a dream, they are boring and simple and usually not very fun.

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Empowering the Team with Pre-Emptive Questioning

As our business grows, I find myself with more and more opportunities to pass work on to others in my organization. I am constantly training, providing input and feedback, and helping my team be effective, productive, and efficient. It is not uncommon that I notice my team doing tasks or making decisions differently than I would in a similar situation. This difference isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s my job to provide general direction and help to keep things on course. And, ultimately, every decision we make falls on my shoulders.

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