Getting to “Inbox-Zero” and staying there…

What is “Inbox-Zero”?

It’s about how to reclaim control over your email, reduce stress and increase your attention span.

“Inbox-Zero” isn’t necessarily how many messages are in your inbox, it’s how much of your own brain capacity is taken up by what might or might not be in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be.

Merlin Mann originated this concept, he wrote a book about “making the time to be scared of more interesting things”. Here’s a bunch of articles that describes how he does it: http://inboxzero.com/articles/

Personally, I’ve been able to keep to “inbox-zero” for many years. Here’s how I do it:

  1. I turned off the Outlook desktop alert and taskbar email-notifications and instead I perform periodic email “dashes” a few times a day.
  2. I flag emails for “follow-up” that require further action from me.
  3. Then I use my personalized Quicksteps buttons to file email away quickly and “mark it as read” with one click.
  4. I’ve set up and maintained an Outlook rule to move internal newsletters and circulars to a “read-it-later” folder.
  5. I’ve set up and maintained an Outlook rule to move emails where I’m cc’d to a “low-importance” folder. Once read, I use my Quicksteps again.
  6. I use the Outlook ignore button to remove myself from irrelevant email conversations (thanks to @billglover for the tip).
  7. I use the Outlook cleanup tool to remove lengthy email chains but keep the most recent email response.
  8. I categorise and colour email and calendar entries by project / initiative.
  9. reduced my infobesity by un-subscribing from external sales, spam and marketing emails to my work email address.
  10. (from @conradnajohnson) For old projects create a rule that archives everything from a group of people into a project folder and run it. This can take time when done for the first time. Run it when you go to get a coffee.
  11. (from @conradnajohnson) For other mail just archive everything from a date. If you don’t know what it is, you probably wont need it. Learn how to search better: http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/outlook-help/learn-to-narr…
  12. (from @conradnajohnson) Make sure your archives are listed in indexing (click into a search, note the new options in ribbon/menu, search tools > search options > indexing options > modify). When you get a new PC the indexing of mailfiles takes time. Always good to check it is building and that you have your archives listed
  13. Make sure everything has a folder and file emails appropriately once you’ve processed then – even if that folder is as generic as “all support message threads”.
  14. Limit your active working mailbox to set period of time or project. Then archive items when the last period or last project is complete.
  15. Configure the “Do not disturb” function on your device to silence ringtones, notifications and alerts during your working/waking hours e.g. http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5463

I agree with Merlin, you’ve got to keeping tweaking your approach to this. Don’t stand still. Keep an eye out for other people’s tips and tricks and add them if they work for you.

“You’ll never stay ahead of this stuff if you don’t recal­i­brate starting today. Give each message as much attention as it needs and not one iota more. Remember the con­tex­tu­ality of triage: if you keep trying to care for dead and doomed patients, you’ll end up losing a lot of the ones who could have actually used your help.”

Please feel free to add your tips in the comments!

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Large-scale Systems Integration & Programme Management

A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to help out Accenture’s  Technology recruitment team by giving an “Guru Lecture” at the University of Manchester on the subject of IT Management for Business. Little did I realise, but this was to be no ordinary lecture. It was on behalf of a not-for-profit company called e-skills, and rather than just talking to one class of undergraduates, the lecture would be webcast simultaneously to all (14) other universities who were following this degree program. A scary prospect for someone like me who isn’t comfortable in speaking to large audiences. I’ve always known this, so have have always tried to challenge myself whenever suitable stretch opportunities arise.

The lecture title and content was up to me as long as it didn’t overlap with any previous or upcoming lectures. I didn’t have much time to prepare anything new, so I refreshed the slides I used for the Warwick lecture earlier in the year.

On my train journey  from London to Manchester, I looked back at some of the learning points from the first time I spoke to students and also the guidance from the e-skills team:

  1. Keep it simple.  It is easy to forget that 18 year olds have a much less developed ‘world view’ than us. Don’t assume any particular level of knowledge – technical, business or otherwise.  If a particular concept is crucial to your talk then give a straightforward explanation first.  Analogies that the students can relate to work well but don’t use acronyms.
  2. Use a top down approach revealing complexity as you progress through the talk. Pin what you’re saying onto real world issues/products/services/experiences that they will relate to.
  3. Focus on five clear key points that you’d like to get across. Tell them what they are at the beginning and again at the end.
  4. Use real life stories, metaphors and humour to illustrate the points wherever possible.  The students will remember the stories and hopefully this will provide the hook for remembering the business/technology message. If the stories involve emotion – ‘frightening’ challenges that were overcome – the euphoria of success – etc. then they will be even more memorable.
  5. Most importantly, you are being billed as an inspirational guru so we need you to be inspirational! Please communicate your enthusiasm for the work you do and the customers you serve in order to inspire the students to commit to work hard and pursue excellence.
  6. Your presentation will be web cast live to students in other universities. There will be multiple cameras focused on you at all times, so you will be asked to stand reasonably still throughout the presentation in order to maintain video and audio quality.  It’s unlikely that this is your normal presenting style so you may want to spend a few minutes beforehand practising your presentation standing still!  Facial expression and hand movements however will be visible to all and extremely important.

Sound advice for anyone giving a webcast style lecture I think.

Once I arrived in the lecture theatre, there was quite a bit of logistical and technical preparation to get through before we kicked off. Getting 14 other universities to connect in was quite a feat!

The presentation itself seemed to go reasonably well, I got over my nerves and into a steady flow after a while. The physical audience was very attentive and engaged, which was apparent with the high standard and quantity of questions at the end.