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My Empty E-mail Inbox, 10 Weeks Later

Habits

Ten weeks ago I posted the article “How I’m Keeping My Inbox Empty,” in which I described a new strategy I was taking to keep on top of all of my e-mail and keep my inbox completely clear. Some of the key points of my approach, which owed much to Dave Allen and his book Getting Things Done, were

  • Make a set of special-purpose folders for e-mails that need follow-up, things to read, general information to keep, etc.
  • Make tasks out of any e-mails that cause you to need to do tasks and put those tasks in a task management system
  • If you can answer or deal with an e-mail within about two minutes, handle it immediately
  • Look at everything that comes in as it comes in. Don’t put off any e-mails to consider later. If it’s going to take a while to respond, put the e-mails in your Reply/Act folder.
  • Visit your Reply/Act folder often and deal with e-mails there, oldest first.

Of course there’s more to it (see the original post), but those are some highlights.

Ten weeks after I started, do I still have an empty inbox? Actually, yes! And this pertains to both a personal e-mail setup I have and a work-related one: the system has been working in both places equally well.

And have my inboxes been empty the whole time, or have I had to redo the cleanup? Amazingly, the system has worked consistently for me so far: I’ve never had to duplicate my initial effort (which wasn’t even so difficult: I outline how to pretty rapidly establish a clean inbox in the original post) and have had a clean inbox the whole time.

Have there been any unexpected snags? Yes, one: I sometimes get in the habit of watching my inbox like a hawk but neglecting my reply/act folder, which really needs to be addressed often. In online gamer slang (from my book Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures), I’m “camping the spawn point,” looking for monsters where they appear instead of going after the ones that are already in place. But once I realized I was doing this, I began working harder at going back to that reply/act folder, and I’ve seen better results since. What’s wonderful is that even with that problem, I was being much, much more responsive to e-mails than I had ever been before.

Have you tried out this method of keeping a clean inbox? If so, I’d love to hear how it went for you in comments.

Photo by mek22

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