Reach Gmail Zen

gmailzen

Inbox Zero

Now that you have that shinny new Google Apps Gmail inbox set up for your corporate address, it's now time to learn how to manage it properly. I doubt any of you leave unread (snail)mail in your mailbox because it would fill quickly and your post office couldn't deliver any new mail. What you actually do is quickly sort through your mail - toss the junk mail right away, immediately open what seems to be important and put less important letters into bins or designated piles to be reviewed later (like taxes...).

This analogy is pretty good - but falls a bit short because modern email products like Gmail basically have unlimited email storage. I think this is a problem. With a little self-discipline we can apply a similar technique to our digital counterpart with a technique coined "Inbox Zero" by Merlin Mann. In essence, Inbox Zero is:

a basic filing system where you treat your inbox like a to-do list, with each email representing a specific task resulting in an organized, empty inbox

The way Mann describes it is delete, delegate, respond, defer and do. I'm sure there's different ways to interpret this, but my take is this:

1. Read through new email subject lines and quickly determine what's important. 2. Address important messages immediately and then move them from the inbox to a specific folder you've created for that client/project/subject matter. 3. Move all other less-important email to specific folder for reading later 4. Toss junk mail or anything with a less than 60% chance of you revisiting. 5. Keep only unread messages in your inbox - and only temporarily.

And what if you already have an inbox full of months, even years of emails - read and un-read? Parse through the weeks most important emails, create folders for their specific topics as mentioned above and move them there now. You can create a new folder from the 'labels' dropdown or do a quick search to find an existing folder when you're inside an email. Make sure to use good naming conventions so you can easily find the folders later. You can find these folders on the left-hand side of your Gmail inbox. Once you are no longer actively using / moving emails to a folder, you can 'hide' the folder in the label list by clicking the dropdown upon hovering your mouse above the folder name.

For all the rest of the messages that you want to store but aren't important enough to categorize, Gmail has a checkbox just below the search bar. Click that with the 'select-all' option and the select 'Archive.' Isn't that refreshing? Now don't worry - you've archived your emails - they are just a few clicks/searches away. You can really narrow your search with the dropdown within the search bar. And this Lifehacker article shows you how to automatically archive or delete old emails based on a schedule you set.

And that's the basic overview on how to reach Inbox Zero (and this applies to any email service, although the exact steps will be different). Now to reach Gmail Zen, consider the following techniques:

For Your Sanity

1. Check your inbox once per hour, or less if possible. 2. Turn off all phone, device and computer email notifications. 3. Keep your email closed - open only when needed. 4. Religiously unsubscribe from email lists that you never read or that provide no value (The CRE App Review and Real Open are valuable ones, of course!).

For Recipient's Sanity

1. Properly label subject lines. 2. Keep your message short and concise. 3. Use proper paragraphs and avoid run on sentences (you know who you are). 4. Never use ALL CAPS. This is shouting. Don't shout.

Final Thoughts

Email is just a tool - but if you let it - it can be a tool for procrastination and prevent the real work from getting done. I can personally say that I'm guilty of not following all of the steps all the time, but the methods above certainly helps me decrease stress and free up loads of time. Opening up your email and not seeing a barrage of unread and half-read emails from the last few weeks is a huge relief.

I hope you found this post helpful and find a way to incorporate Inbox Zero into your CRE work flow. The next segment of the series will cover how to Unleash your inbox and become a Gmail super-user with advanced techniques and plug-ins.

Image credit: thesurfbum