Our days are spent in a constant battle to empty our inbox. The state of our inbox is a barometer of how busy our day has been; we judge how much we've accomplished by the number of emails read, handled and deleted. Email isn't just for communication, it's our to-do list, our file cabinets, our lives. How many of us send ourselves emails as reminders or notes? After all, if it's not in Outlook, will we ever find it again? Will we remember?
According to the New York Times article, Meet the LIfe Hackers, (Oct. 16, 2006) some of the most prolific workers don't use complex technology to manage their days, but shove everything into one simple application. While some use a simple Word document as a brain dump, I daresay for most of us, that one application is our Outlook inbox and email folders. After all, as the article says, our inboxes are the one thing we're certain to look at all day long. And if we don't have an email reminder of a task, it may go by the wayside.
Perhaps that's why many of us use our inbox as a rough to-do list making the idea of an empty inbox a bit terrifying. But after reading Getting Things Done, a while back, I made the effort, creating folders for Actions, Waiting and Someday, as suggested. But I lapsed, backslided, whatever you want to call it. I'm afraid to remove things from my inbox, scared that once I put them there, I'll forget all about them. But after attending a session at the recent Joint Institute (SCALL, NOCALL, SANDALL) about the Getting Things Done philosophy, I'm trying again.
But the problem of putting a message into a folder and forgetting about it is a real one. So this time I've made some changes. I've created folders for current projects and tasks within my inbox. When I tried this before, I had one "Actions" folder. This time I'm creating subfolders to collect like tasks together, to be dealt with all at once when I have time. Any MCLE database updates go in one folder, Link Library edits/adds in another one. In order to to quickly determine, at a glance, how much is to be done in any of these areas, I've marked the emails as unread before moving them to these folders. As a result, the folder will be bolded, with a message count showing the number of unread emails that need to be addressed. This is working much better for me than one big "Actions" folder.
If you keep all your archives in your inbox, note that you can push the current actions folders to the top by simply putting an asterick in front of the name. I use this same technique in my pending projects folder to push the projects I'm actively working on to the top.
Here's proof that at one moment in time, I did, in fact, have an empty inbox:
I'll admit, though, it's not always that way, and it's not easy to keep my inbox clear. I blame Microsoft, as I do for so many ills of modern life. A simple change in Outlook would make moving important items to folders more do-able. You can set an alert on an email in your inbox, but alerts set on emails in folders, don't work. Why, oh why? It's critical to have a tickler on items in folders, which are not always in open view.
If you have any tips on how you manage your email, please share! I'm going to continue to try to fine tune and I'll let you know how things go. Managing email has become synonymous with managing our lives, and it simply must be mastered!!