I might be the most organized person I know; people tell me that all the time. I am a pretty busy guy, so I have to be: my calendar is mostly full of meetings and calls, I get 300+ emails a day, I travel most weeks. But I get to inbox zero every day and I’m proud to say that I respond to every email that someone sends me. I don’t drop any balls and I’m not afraid of my email. I also get nine hours of sleep a night and I get to spend quality time with my family every night and every weekend.
There are lots of views on individual techniques. Use keyboard shortcuts (huge benefit), block time for emails (I don’t use that one), use a text expander for common responses, etc. Although valuable, I think that I get more benefit from having a defined workflow than any of these individual tricks. Here is what I do:
- Email Order. I process my email from oldest to newest. Yes, I cheat sometimes and answer a new one, but I try not to. It’s harder in Gmail because you can’t sort chronologically, but I just start at the bottom.
- Folders. I don’t waste my time filing stuff away. I archive it and if I need it, I know how to search for it.
- Filters. I use filters (rules) heavily to move email to a “later” folder. These are newsletters, group emails, etc. that aren’t time critical for me; usually they are just “read and delete”. I use airplane time or other down time to clear my “later” folder. I am disciplined about doing that at least once a week.
- Tasks. I make heavy use of tasks (I use Wunderlist, but there are plenty of good ones). In fact I think of tasks as being integral to my email workflow. Here’s what I do:
- I keep my task manager up on my screen at all times. It’s as important as email.
- If I don’t think that I can take care of an item on the same day, I create a task and archive the email.
- I put a due date on every task, so that I can look at “today” and not see everything.
- Every morning, I star the tasks that I MUST get done today. I try not to have more than 5 of those.
- Every morning, I move out the due date of tasks that I know I won’t get done today. I know that 20-30 is the most I should have on any given day.
- End of Day. Every night before I leave (or before I go to bed if I’m travelling), I look at the tasks that didn’t get done and move their due dates. I also try to clear out my inbox, making tasks if needed. This allows me to go home with a clear mind – no tasks due, no emails. It takes discipline to do this, but if you don’t, you just get behind and give up.
- Sleep. The organization of the workflow and clearing the decks every day gives me peace of mind. I sleep like a baby for nine hours a night. That allows me to wake up refreshed and clear headed so that I can have a great day.
Give it a try and let me know if it works for you. I always love hearing about other efficiency techniques and am constantly trying to improve my own.