We all get deluged on a daily basis with Inbox messages from email, text, Slack, CRMs and other online tools. It’s critical to have a thoughtful methodology for dealing with them all—otherwise, you’ll be buried in communications and you’ll risk missing time-sensitive messages.
Think of your combined inboxes as a single triage room at a hospital. Some cases that come in are urgent, others not so much. It is critical to notice the urgent cases immediately, and get them in to a see a doctor now. To do so, you must keep the triage room clear. If you use the triage room as a waiting room as well, then a new patient can enter the room, sit down in a chair, and bleed out from his stab wound before you even realize he is there. For this reason, every well-functioning hospital separates its triage room from its waiting room, and keeps the triage room absolutely clear. To be efficient, you must do the same with your inbox. This means addressing all the urgent cases right away, and maintaining Inbox Zero every day.
If you check your email incessantly, multiple times an hour, you are wasting hours of productivity. Instead, batch your time and clean out your entire inbox at those times. I recommend checking your inbox only twice a day (once in the morning, once in the afternoon). Each time, follow this process:
- If the email/message takes less than two minutes to address, do it immediately.
- If it takes more than two minutes, write down a Next Action for it (according to the Getting Things Done methodology) and then place the email in its correct location (Next Action, Waiting For, Someday/Maybe, or Reference).
- Repeat until you get to Inbox Zero. If you are truly fearless, you get can get to Inbox Zero within the hour (yes, even if you have 1,000s of emails in your Inbox right now).