If you are just tuning in, this is Day 3 of 3 of our resolution for Inbox Zero. Here’s how this New Year’s resolution got started.
Here is my final tally of “Deletes, Delegates, Responds, Defers and Dos” using our Inbox Zero Tracking Spreadsheet.
Welcome to Day 3.
8:43am. Checking my blackberry at a red light. I stop scrolling for a second. It dawns on me that I can’t quickly and accurately process all this e-mail at a 20 second light. Inbox Zero has redefined my experience and addiction with my blackberry. Instead of an extension of e-mail, it has turned into the Bat-Signal – an emergency beacon for critical actions. I begin scanning only for subjects containing emergency words. ”Issue”, “Come see me”, “Help”, “Gotham is in trouble”, etc. Gotham City is safe, so I put the blackberry away.
9:30am. Our corporate town hall meeting is starting. I still have yet to process my inbox. My blackberry buzzes 4 times.
10:53am. I finally get to my desk. 22 e-mails are waiting. Mary starts her day at 19. How quickly can we get through our e-mail? I’ve now graduated from Robert Irvine’s cooking school. My e-mail inbox is like an episode of Dinner: Impossible and the countdown clock just started.
11:08am. Done. I had one interruption that lasted 8 minutes. That left 7 minutes of processing time. 1 “Do” which I took care of in 30 seconds. 1 “Delegate”.
I check with Mary. She’s keeping e-mail “Responds” short and sweet. More flash in your e-mail just leads to more trash. Don’t copy me if you’ve already told me about it in person. Don’t send me courtesy “Thank You” e-mails when I just completed your “To-Do”. Don’t stop by to ask me “Did you get the e-mail?”, when you just sent it 10 minutes ago. Like the Twinkie manufacturing plant from Day 2, garbage in = wasted time + garbage out.
11:16am. I inadvertently look at e-mail, but I decide to wait until the inventory stacks up a little more. There are more important things to do. My stages of separation anxiety with e-mail are starting to dissapate. E-mail used to be like the Slap Chop. One slap you have potatoes for stew, two slaps home fries, add a mushroom and pow! E-mail, like the Slap Chop, had become a 4-in-1 kitchen utensil with promises of saving your kitchen and the world. Now, I’m rediscovering that sometimes the best tools are the one’s designed for a single purpose. I now use Evernote for logging ideas and a separate system for managing “To-Dos”.
I close the door and set the kitchen timer for 60 minutes. I get 2 “To-Dos” done in 45 minutes that I thought would take me the full hour. I feel like a microwave oven. Stick something in me, set the timer and it’s done.
12:01pm. I go get lunch and process e-mail for 4 minutes back at my desk. I again focus on sending out less e-mail to others. I make more phone calls when appropriate to save time. E-mail is just for replies that take 4 sentences or less.
2:20pm. Mary and I chat about e-mail folders. I still like the simplicity of three. Waiting For, Requiring Action and Archive. Mary has a few more folders. Like Martha Stewart’s recipe file, there is a place for everything. While I’ve followed the Inbox Zero recipe to a tee, Mary has changed a few ingredients here and there.
Mary relies on breaking down work into buckets so that processing can be done in smaller and more systematic chunks. She uses the same approach at home from sorting mail to cooking meals. One night each week she buys all her vegetables. She gets home, takes each one out and slices and dices it for the week ahead. She then stores each in a unique container. Prepping and processing in the kitchen and e-mail are important and should be tailored to natural work tendencies.
4:55pm. I spend all afternoon working and check my inbox one last time. 20 final e-mail messages processed in 2 minutes. I spent less than 14 minutes in my inbox today, including 9 seconds looking for the Bat-Signal.
Mary and I debrief one final time. She ends her day at Inbox 9 and achieves “Inbox Less Than 10″. I’m at Inbox Zero. 70 e-mails today. 57 or 81% were “Deletes”. I only sent 7 e-mails out and got 8 “To-Dos” done.
Over the three days, my daily e-mail volume dropped from 78 to 70. My % of “Deletes” increased from 69% to 81%. There appears to be some sort of correlation here. The less e-mail I send out and the less time I spend in my inbox, the less e-mail I get back and the more work I got done. Common sense right?
At the end of the day, did we get more done? Day 3 is a “Yes”. Mary is still keeping e-mail in her inbox, but she is processing more quickly and getting real work done. I still like to process all my e-mail down to zero every time I check my inbox. Like every great recipe in life, a little variation is often necessary. At the end of the day though, Inbox Zero is a lot like cooking at home or as an Iron Chef. The quality and speed you can serve your guests a meal from raw ingredients is most important. Maybe Inbox Zero should be renamed “Inbox To Outbox?” What was the biggest lesson learned from our Inbox Zero resolution. It’s not a resolution, it’s a habit. If done regularly, the habit of processing e-mail will go far beyond your inbox.
Day 3 complete. Thanks for tagging along these last 3 days. Next time you’re in kitchen stadium or preparing for your next dinner party, remember that cooking and e-mail may have more in common than you think. And remember, be careful what you send out to your guests. If you don’t, you might get more back in return than anticipated.