According to an Adobe survey, people in the U.S. spend 5 hours per day checking their email. Yet productivity gurus say you should achieve inbox zero by spending no more than half an hour in your inbox.
Where is the truth and how can you cut down on checking email?
The thing is you should stop checking email. Seriously.
I no longer check emails. I process emails.— Michael Sliwinski
What it means is that you never deal with an email more than once. You make the decision right there and then on what you can do with the given message.
Here’re some questions you can ask yourself when an email lands in your inbox:
- Is it actionable or not?
- If it’s actionable, can I answer it in 5 minutes?
- Does it even need a response?
- Do I need that email as a reference in the future?
And that’s when emailing tasks into your task manager and turning them into actionable stuff becomes important.
Why Nozbe is one of the best tools to achieve inbox zero
Many task management tools support emailing tasks. That’s pretty useful because you can put your actionable emails into your to-do list with all the information attached. The subject line becomes the name of your task, and the email body specifies the details as comments.
Most tools stop at delivering your email into a container (often called the inbox). But Nozbe goes one step further. By using hashtags in the subject field, you can specify how your task will land in Nozbe:
- Set up the priority: #!
- Assign tags: #tag name
- Add your task to a certain project: #project name
- Add notes: ##notes
- Add a due date (or follow-up date): you can use the smart syntax (#tomorrow, #Monday) or definite dates (#April 21)
Awesome, isn’t it? But wait, there’s more.
Say, you have an existing task in Nozbe, and you receive an email that serves as an update. You can send comments to already existing tasks via email. Here’s how you can do it:
Add this to the subject line of your email: #task: task name
You can either add this to the end of the subject line or use it alone. And you don’t even need to remember the entire name of your existing task. Nozbe will recognize your task and attach your message accordingly. (Provided that you only have a single task with that name.)
Let’s see how this works in real life.
Case study—How I deal with outsourced stuff
David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, defines the Waiting For list as “reminders of all the things that you are waiting to get back from or get done by others.”
There’s a lot of stuff under this category. Here’s my workflow.
I have a dedicated “Waiting For” project in Nozbe where I collect my outsourced stuff. (Email is our main tool of communication.) When I send out an email, I put my unique Nozbe email address into the BCC field. I also fill in the parameters at the end of the subject line as follows:
- #waiting for: this is my project name
- #due date or follow-up date: this is the date when the task is due or when I want to do a follow-up
- #responsible person: I have created tags in Nozbe for important people, like my boss
So, I have nothing else to do just hit send. During my weekly review, I go through my Waiting for project and do or schedule a follow-up on my tasks. If I need an urgent response that can’t wait until Friday (that’s the time when I do my weekly review), the task will automatically show up in my Priority view when it’s due.
When I have my boss visiting my office, I quickly search for the tag associated with him (“boss”). That gives me a quick overview of what we’re supposed to talk about.
One more tip: make sure that you don’t put your Nozbe address into a visible field (CC). As far as I know, anybody can use your address to spam your Nozbe inbox. (Most productivity tools deliver tasks to registered email addresses only. This is something that Nozbe could consider in the future.)
How to achieve inbox zero
When an email lands in my inbox, I always ask myself whether I can address it right there and then. The 2-minute rule says that you should do a task immediately if it takes less than 2 minutes to complete. I like to push that number up to 5 minutes.
If I can’t do that task in 5 minutes, I’d provide short feedback to the sender (if applicable) and email that task to Nozbe. Either, I specify the details right in the subject field of the email or simply deal with it later in Nozbe.
When I get updates to my task, I enter them manually to the comment section or add them via email by leveraging the hashtag method.
Nozbe makes it easy to reply to the email by providing a link (“reply to email”) at the top of the comment section of the corresponding task. So, when I’m ready to deliver my work, I reply to the original email.
Importantly, I don’t send non-actionable stuff to my Nozbe account. I save them either to Evernote, OneDrive, or to a network server.
I always try my best to get down to inbox zero at the end of the day, which is not a big deal with the methods described. Otherwise, my unprocessed emails leave me frustrated over the evening.
What helps you achieve inbox zero? Let me know in the comments.