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Maintaining Email Inbox Serenity

Jason Womack points us to a CNN article focused on keeping your inbox clean. These are pretty solid principles. They refer to David Allen’s Getting Things Done book/methodology, which I think should be required reading for any knowledge worker or executive.
Below is a picture of my inbox from this morning – you will notice it is empty. Everything has been filed according to whether it’s reference material, material I need to review, stuff I’m waiting on others for, or stuff that I need to take an action on. If you were to look at my Outlook inbox that takes care of my personal life, you would notice that it is also empty.
Of course, for my implementation of Allen’s system, I much prefer Outlook over Notes. Why? One fundamental feature -> I can tell outlook to show me how many messages are in a folder instead of showing me how many unread messages are in a folder. Thus, I have a tickler that there are 6 messages needing review, 15 needing action, and 4 waiting on others. In Notes, all I get is an unread count. I have found unread counts are great for initial processing, but not for managing this system. (LifeHackers: yes, I know I could mark them as unread in Notes so that the count would show up in the folders, but then I would have to consciously determine what was truly unread. That doesn’t exactly lead to a ‘mind like water’).
Brad Feld recently blogged about an email prioritization system, and Fred Wilson added some thoughts into the discussion. They’re both alluding to something off the shelf, but I think of it as more of a system that you have to implement yourself. I think the tools (folders, rules, etc) already exist in Outlook & Notes to let you do this. It just requires thought on your part to structure your folders. You may go as simple as having three folders high, medium and low; or you may have folders like ‘From Project Team’, ‘From Client’, ‘From Partner’, ‘From Family’, ‘Other’. Then you have to create the rules to filter through the to:, cc: and bcc: fields to figure out which folder to dump the messages into. It would be painful up front to set up, but I think that is the way it has to be because of the vastly differing ways people would want to prioritize them.
Me? I’m just happy with my clean inboxes.

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