Handle it once! Getting back to Inbox Zero.

Like many people I get a significant amount of junk-mail through the letterbox every week. Most of the time the junk-mail goes straight from the floor below the letterbox into a dedicated rubbish box near the door where it rests temporarily before going outside into the recycling bin. There is minimum effort expended on these pieces of brightly coloured paper.

The useful items of post will get filtered out and go onto a desk in a room near to the letterbox. Quite often these pieces of post will get opened and quickly looked at during the filtering process, sometimes they’ll even get taken out of the envelope before they get put onto the desk. At some point someone will sit down with the various items of correspondence and make a decision on the next step they should take.

Nearly all the post that isn’t junk-mail will get handled twice, some of it will get handled multiple times. Sometimes it’s inevitable that things get handled more than once, but the reality is, most of it only needed to be handled once and then dealt with.

Last week I looked at my email inbox and realised that it was a mess, but I couldn’t understand why, so I watched what I was doing. Once I became aware of it I realised what was causing the mess – I was opening emails, skim reading them and then closing them, leaving them in my inbox.  My normal method of processing information (I need to update that post because it’s changed) had lapsed and my inbox-zero routine had fallen by the wayside.

My inbox-zero approach goes as follows:

  • On a periodic basis (avoiding continuous sorting)
  • Start at the top of the inbox
  • Open the first email start to read through it and spend 10 to 15 seconds understanding it.
  • If the email can be responded to in less than a couple of minutes, respond and file under done.
  • If the email is going to take longer file under to-do.
  • Open the next email.
  • Repeat until mailbox is empty.

I have a set of keyboard short-cuts set up to do the filing. In this way most email is only handled once and it’s only the items that need a longer activity that are handled multiple times. The items that need to be worked on are visible and the clutter is reduced.

This week I will be re-instigating my inbox-zero approach to handle things as few times as possible.

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