Monday, September 22, 2008

Productivity for Consultants - The Inbox Zero Philosophy

Last week I learned a very handy way to manage the flood of e-mail that I'm sure you too experience on a daily basis. It's called Inbox Zero and there is a collection of articles on this topic at the site 43 Folders.

The method behind Inbox Zero seems rather familiar to me and perhaps it was inspired by a book I read eight or nine years ago called Getting Things Done by David Allen. It's a great book if you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work and "stuff" in your life and I highly recommend it to help clear the clutter in your world.

The principles behind Inbox Zero are simple. In your favorite e-mail client, create three folders in your inbox:

  • Action
  • Later
  • Archive
When you download your e-mail to your e-mail client, quickly scan it and ruthlessly delete messages you know are junk.  Hopefully you have a good spam filter to help weed out the junk.  Next, move the legitimate messages to one of the three appropriate folders.  Here are the guidelines for filing your e-mail:
  • Action - tasks / actions that will take less than 2 minutes to complete.
  • Later - tasks / actions that will take more than 2 minutes to complete or tasks / actions you are awaiting further information on or need to follow-up on later.
  • Archive - messages you want to save for later reference.
Periodically make some time to go through your Action and Later folders.  Eventually you will eliminate all messages in those folders by either completing the tasks or moving them to the Archive folder where you'll reference them later, if needed.  Follow the rule of thumb that all e-mail is a call to action and it is up to you to determine to whether it is worth your time to accommodate that call to action.

I've been doing this for a week now and have been pleased with the results.  It's a wonderful feeling to see an e-mail inbox free of messages.  As consultants, we need to focus on billable hours.  Spending your time going through e-mail is not productive and doesn't bring in income.  By following this philosophy, you can quickly get back to the work that matters, the work that generates income.

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