Daily productivity: Achieving ‘Inbox Zero’ with Gmail and Mailbox
A lot has been written about email best practice and achieving ‘inbox zero’. I’ve personally found that moving to an ‘inbox zero’ system has resulted in major productivity gains. There’s a number of different ways to achieve this, and often based on personal preferences - but here’s what I find works for me.
My key requirement for my email system is a relatively seamless transition between desktop and mobile (iPhone in my case), since I’m often on the go and use both frequently throughout the day. For desktop I use gmail’s web interface (no email client can match its speed), with a custom archiving & starring ‘multiple inbox’ system based roughly on a blog post I read about a year ago. I won’t repeat step-by-step how to set up multiple inboxes - that’s covered in the link above - however its relatively straightforward and takes about 30 minutes. For mobile email, I’ve played with the iOS versions of gmail, Acompli and Mailbox (Dropbox) and eventually settled on Mailbox (as Acompli, at least pre-Microsoft acquisition, had stability issues for me). My Mailbox setup is simplified from the default setup however. I don’t use the ‘later’ functionality to send emails back to me that I don’t want to deal with in the moment - I just have a ‘swipe right’ for star and ‘swipe left’ for archive.
So here’s how it works throughout the day. I wake up early and quickly triage from my iPhone. For emails that can be responded to quickly (1-2 liners), I respond immediately. I star emails that require a longer response. I don’t bother with emails that require no action at that point. I then get up and start my day, spending time with my family.
My next interaction with email, typically an hour or two later, is on my computer via gmail. I first go through any new emails that have come in, and either star them or leave them. I next do a bulk archive for all emails in the active inbox - the starred ones show up in the other inboxes I have designated. Above is a snapshot of how my inbox looks after this is done.
Emails that were starred from earlier are waiting in a ‘triage’ inbox with a yellow star. From this inbox, I decide whether its a ‘top priority’ (red star e.g. to be responded to today), ‘this week’ (orange star), or a ‘hold’ (mainly used for active email strings that I want to keep an eye on and remind myself of so ongoing priorities don’t slip. I then repeat the above process throughout the day depend on my schedule. I try and do a final sweep before I leave the office for the day, and from home after bedtime follow the same system I do first thing in the morning on Mailbox (opening up the laptop for more urgent, longer form email communication as required). I also try and stay generally disciplined about the amount of email that I send, but particularly so at night - Jeff Weiner (Linkedin CEO) talks about this and other tips that I think are very useful (link below).
That’s it. And here are some other email tactics that I employ to maximize productivity:
- I use gmail filters to ‘tag’ and ‘mark as read’ extensively for repeated email communication (e.g. daily reports, internal activity reports, etc.). I don’t like autostarring.
- I try - but often don’t succeed - in handling emails in a few batches throughout the day rather than dealing with email as it comes in.
- Occasionally I will have an email that I want to send at a specific time in the future. Rather that remind myself to send an email later, I write it in the moment and just use Boomerang to send it when I want.
- Jeff Weiner wrote a great blog post about his email best practices. I follow most of these rules.