For busy people, an empty email inbox is the holy grail, and about as easy to attain. Here are some tips to help you get there.
There are endless systems for achieving a clean inbox but, like diets, most everyone ends up failing. The answer then is accepting that it’s impossible, and then finding peace of mind by focusing on what matter most.
We get all kinds of email, and not just spam and everything else. Some email is just notifications, like a library book is now available for pickup, or one of your coworkers has switched from ‘no’ to ‘maybe’ on a calendar invitation, or a task is now overdue in your team’s task management solution. Some mail is really subscriptions, like newsletters or emails telling you that the newest issue of Brooklyn Hipster Gazette is ready for downloading. Some mail has attachments, and a lot of mail can’t be responded to right away but you don’t want to forget to deal with it in a timely fashion.
The naked experience of Gmail, or other average email clients, does not really help to deal with these different sorts of email differentially: the average email client doesn’t distinguish. It’s all the same with them. Oh yes, they’ve provided ways to filter based on who the email comes from, or the like. But that only solves the smallest bit of the problem.
And since it looks like we are going to be using email for a long time (as I wrote about yesterday in Why we will be using email for at least another 50 years), it would be great if there were a bit more innovation in email.
For several years, I have been using task management tools that closely integrate with Gmail, providing at least one part of the puzzle. Todoist is such an app. It is a solo task manager — supporting no sharing of tasks — but works as an appliance (a Chrome plugin) on top of Gmail. When I am reading an email that I need to defer a response to I can click on ‘Add email as task’ and Todoist pulls the id of that email from Gmail, as shown below:
Note that the ‘@’ sign is used to indicate tags in Todoist, useful in searches. So, for example, I could search for all library tasks — like returning books — before heading over there.
After clicking on the ‘Add task’ button, the task looks like this:
The tags are shown in green (here just one) at the left hand side, then the email icon, the link based on the subject of the email, and then the text I added. Clicking the link leads to the email be reopened, even if it has been archived, which helps me keep my inbox cleared out.
There are many other features of Todoist worth reflecting on, but it is just this one feature that I am focused on. Indeed, it is that feature that makes it an invaluable tool for me. I formerly used Remember The Milk, which has a similar integration with Gmail, but for a variety of other reasons I switched to Todoist, despite the fact that it is single user and Remember The Milk supports task sharing.
At any rate, I can’t imagine going back to a naked email client which does not have this notion of some sort of task system integrated with emails.
There is a new project in the works that seems to be headed in that direction, called .Mail. This development effort grew out of a conceptual design undertaken by Tobias Van Schneider, which is now accepting sign ups for the beta. Along with a clean reconsideration of the aesthetics of email — which includes pulling out emails that are just notifiers and making them notifications, and dealing with attachments in a smart way — .Mail will be incorporating Action Steps:
Here you see Action Steps, a prioritization approach, based on clicking the left most region of the email header. As the small print says,
First thing in the morning, you organize and prioritize your unread emails. Sort out what’s important and what’s not. When you mouse over the email, those 3 red squares slide in fromt he left side and give you the option to add this email to your “Next Steps” list. Depending on which square you click, you give this email a [different] priority.
And What About Sharing?
In essence, .Mail is implementing a more integrated version of what I am doing today with Todoist and Gmail (leaving aside the notifications and clever management of attachments, for a moment). But what about coordinating with others in your workgroup? Imagine I get an email in .Mail with a cc to David Card, my colleague at GigaOM Research, who is also using .Mail. Perhaps I’d like to ask David a question before responding to the email. What I’d like to do is treat the email as an object and then have a private comment thread with David about the email.
Today the typical pattern is to create a second email exchange to discuss the first email, which has a number of problems: the first email is either out of context, or gets embedded in second by forwarding or by pasting as text. All these options are bad, really.
Besides, David and I talk all the time, and we share tasks frequently. So I don’t want to communicate with him in the email lowest common denominator form factor.
Or taking it a step farther, imagine that I want to punt on the email, and assign the response to David. In a naked email world, I’d indicate that through another email. But in a hypothetical next gen version of .Mail, I could simply assign the response to David, after attaching a comment, and perhaps an attachment for him to review. Note again that the comments and attachment in this scenario are meta data on the email thread, but not emails themselves.
I haven’t seen the .Mail beta yet, and I am spinning a great deal of wheat where it might wind up being chaff. However, I think that the key idea I am outlining — treating email as a social object, to be shared, commented on, and attached implicitly or implicitly to tasks — has real legs.
So, yes, we will still be using email for decades to come, and some people may continue to use naked email clients, but I am betting that social email will become the dominant approach in the near future, especially in the business context. It preserves the best of the naked email model: namely, anybody with an email account can email anyone else with an email account. And at the same time, social email opens the door for additional, side channel communication and coordination around the subjects embedded in the email text with your coworkers.
A primary source of information overload is our email inboxes. While I’ve previously mentioned a few strategies for dealing with email overload, I think it’s a good time for a post with comprehensive rundown of my tips for managing email.
For many of us, “inbox zero” is the unattainable holy grail of email organization and productivity. While getting to inbox zero through a period of concerted effort just takes a little time and feels quite rewarding, maintaining that empty inbox is difficult.
Swamped by thousands of unread emails? Constantly digging out from under an onslaught of messages, only to find hundreds more coming in the door? Digg founder Kevin Rose has posted five of his tips on how to deal with the never-ending wave of unread email.
I get a lot of email and am often frustrated when I miss an important message, just because it slipped down and out of sight into page two of my inbox. I also have a ritual of emptying my inbox and getting to inbox zero (or at least close to zero) twice a year, before my trips to visit my family for the holidays and again in July. There is something so satisfying about starting a trip with a clean inbox, and I’ve been able to get to inbox zero twice a year for many years now. However, this time I wanted to keep it at inbox zero. Read More about 10 Tips: My Personal Journey Toward Maintaining Inbox Zero
Many readers are likely familiar with the Getting Things Done craze of the past few years. This task oriented methodology has spawned a system for managing the chore that is email, with battle-cries of “Inbox Zero!” resounding around the Internet.
While I’m not exactly an “inbox zero” kind of guy (close enough I suppose), I have found that the concept of “desktop zero” rings quite true with me. If you’ve ever seen a computer desktop covered in icons, we’re talking about the antithesis here. Read on to find out some compelling reasons to strive for desktop zero, and some tool tips on how you can easily achieve desktop zen. Read More about 6 Tips for Getting to Desktop Zero
The last week of the year is a great time to get organized. Chances are good that many of your coworkers and/or clients have the week off, so it should be a fairly quiet week for most of us. We could spend that extra time goofing off, or we could spend it getting our acts together to get 2010 off to a great start. Here are the steps that I’m taking, and while it’s not quite as extensive as Meryl’s list, it should be achievable this week and set me up well for 2010. Read More about How I’m Getting an Efficient Start on the New Year
As a new writer here, let me give you the File ? Get Info on me.
For my day job, I own a computer repair business here in Lawrence, Kansas. Drawing on my support background, I focus on practical technology from the user perspective; If I can’t find it useful, I’m not that interested in it. My passion is helping people with technology. I’ve worked in corporate IT and academic computing before settling on residential and small office computer support. I’m also heavily involved in our User Group.
My experience with Apple goes back to Apple IIe days; the first Mac I used was a MacPlus, and owned was a IIvx. Ever since then I’ve been a Mac fan. I even met my spouse through the Lawrence Apple Users’ Group and we’ve been married 10 years this June. Read More about TAB Welcomes: Dave Greenbaum