Going from Inbox 4000 to Inbox Zero

Dec 4th, 2011 by Meri in Productivity

Through a combination of holiday and time off to let my repeatedly dislocating shoulder heal, I was out most of October. So when November 1 dawned I had over 4000 emails in my inbox. Yes, you read that right, 4000. And my work inbox isn’t like my personal — there’s almost no spam, no newsletters. So virtually every one of those 4000+ emails was really for me.

So on November 1, I felt a bit like this:

Man with his head in his hands, behind a laptop, with stacks of paper on either side of him. Clearly overwhelmed by volume of work!

Rather than resorting to a simple panic attack and a paper bag, I pulled out Getting Things Done and reminded myself that processing is powerful. Rather than viewing the “inbox of doom” (as it was becoming known ;-)) as an insurmountable mountain of “stuff to do”, I started looking at it one by one.

For each item, I chose whether to action it (if not: file immediately in the right place, if so, put immediately in @action folder), put it in @maybe-someday, @read-later or @waiting-for (e.g. if a conversation/topic had moved along but the next action was with someone else). Surprisingly, this really didn’t take that long. Within a couple of days I had processed the insurmountable 4000+ down to ~500 I had to actually do something with!

Best of all, I was back at Inbox Zero. And I’ve gotten back down to zero every day since.

Having nothing in your inbox, even if you have 514 in your @action folder, is curiously calming. Knowing that you know exactly what needs to be done, that it is held in a safe place, that you no longer need to frantically make notes in sharpie on napkins at lunchtime because “OH SHIT I JUST REMEMBERED” is … serene.

Tropical beach, blue sky & sea, with palm tree

I can highly recommend it 🙂

Further Reading

For anyone wanting an introduction to GTD, LifeDev’s GTD Cheatsheets are a nice clean resource; Gina Trapani’s Simplified GTD is fabulous too.

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