Speedy Gmail Inboxing
* Update 1/21/2012 – You can make it even easier by going to Mail settings > Labs> Enable auto-advance and then back in General settings selecting “Go to the previous (older) conversation.”
Over the years, I’ve cobbled together a system for processing my email which has taken me from a high of over 2,000 emails in my inbox to close to zero*. I’ve integrated ideas from a few places, including Getting Things Done (GTD) and Inbox Zero. Gmail’s filtering, archiving, and keyboard shortcuts keep things simple and speedy.
We have way too much information coming at us. We all have limited time and brain capacity. To make room for what really matters in life, we need to do the following things: Process all e-mails once and only once, corral e-mail time so it doesn’t take over the day, keep things as simple as possible, and get rid of the 80% of e-mails that really don’t matter.
Gmail: 1. Enable Send & Archive; 2. Enable keyboard shortcuts
Task manager you can add tasks to via e-mail (Here’s how for Toodledo)
- Schedule 1-3 times each day to process e-mail (only check more often than this if it is essential to your job).
- At the beginning of each processing session, ground yourself with a few deep breathes.
- Set your intention for processing. Ask yourself what are your most important projects? What 1 or 2 tasks will you gain the most from completing today. Your intention may be to keep in mind your priorities and let things go that don’t support them.
- Consider setting a time limit for processing. I usually limit my processing to 15 minutes.
- Open the top e-mail (o)
- Ask, “Does this really matter?”
Quickly scan the subject and sender (& message body as needed.) Hopefully, you have in your mind your priorities. Does this really make a difference in achieving those priorities? Are there consequences to ignoring the e-mail? Try to go with your gut.
- -> No. Archive immediately ([).
If this is an e-mail that never matters, for example from a listserv or an online shopping site, make a filter for it. (. then “filter messages like these”)
I send all my coupons and online shopping e-mails straight to “Shopping” and listservs and newsletters to “Lists.” It’s then easy for me to check for sales and coupons when I am looking to buy something or to see what is in my Lists folder when I feel like reading.
- -> Maybe. Archive immediately ([).
If you aren’t sure it matters, it probably doesn’t. The beauty of archiving is that if it turns out to be important, you can easily retrieve the e-mail. 99 times out of 100, if something really matters, you will be reminded about it some other way.
Aim for clearing about 75% of your e-mail by archiving No’s and Maybe’s.
- If it does matter, ask yourself what you need to do with it
Forward the e-mail & archive
If you need to check on the progress later, you can use a service like followup.cc or a gmail filter
* If it will take you 2 min or less, just do it. Then archive the e-mail ([).
* Otherwise, add it to your todo system.
I use Toodledo, which you can add tasks to through e-mail. I just forward (f) to my special toodledo e-mail (which I named “toodleadd” in my contacts). The subject line will be the task name, so I edit as needed. If you are following GTD you can add @context, #due-date, and *project (for example, “Call client regarding color scheme @phone #tomorrow *clientA”) I like to keep things simple, so I will usually only use #due-date, and then only if I really need it.
I use send & archive (<esc> then <tab> then <enter>). This takes me back to the inbox, so I press “o” to go to the next e-mail.
If the e-mail is about an event or appointment, add it to calendar. Then, archive ([).
Archive ([). If needed, label (l) then archive ([). Usually archiving is sufficient.
I also like to set up filters that label e-mails from people who usually communicate with me about a particular project or job. For example, students who are working with me on research get the label “Research” This way all I need to do is archive.
* For a little bit of flexibility: You can use the “j” shortcut to go to the next e-mail without archiving or acting on it. It isn’t always realistic to process everything “perfectly,” and allowing yourself a little leeway will help keep things moving along.
When you’ve emptied your inbox, close gmail. If you can stand it, only open it for specific tasks until your next scheduled processing.
I hope you found this helpful. I would love to hear in the comments your gmail and email tips.