In anticipation of the upcoming Rocky Mountain Google Apps Summit, I will be posting a series of #inbox0 tips for Google Apps users. Thanks for your interest! +Cory Pavicich
Are you an inbox horder?
#inbox0 tip #3: Make choices about an email the FIRST time you see it. DO IT, DELEGATE IT, or DEFER IT.
Many people love the Superstars feature of Gmail, but I'm not a big fan. Why? staring and flagging emails is an often abused way to not have to decide what to do with a recently read email. Most of us are guilty of reading emails, closing them, and then leaving them in our inboxes as a reminder to deal with them later. However, avoiding decisions about email is the #1 way to NOT get to Inbox 0. Instead, decide to decide what to do with your email.
There are only four decisions you can make about an email (with apologies to the much more gifted @gtdguy David Allen, whose Getting Things Done system best defines this advice).
That's it! There are no decisions that you can make that do not fit into one of those three categories. So how do you use this to get you to Inbox 0?
Delete it: Of course, you should never delete an email in Gmail. So archive instead. Is something reference material or noise? Go ahead and get it out of your inbox as fast as you can. I recommend keyboard shortcuts, and then advanced search tools (covered in a later tip).
Do It: When you open an email and it's a simple decision, usually a yes/no or informational question, then you can do it right then. However, when you are "checking your email" DON'T reply to emails that take more than two minutes to resolve. That's work, and emails that require more than two minutes are work that should be organized and prioritized. 2+ minute emails should be deferred.
Delegate It: Can someone else do this better, faster, or easier than you? Is it another person's job to resolve this email? Don't do work that someone else can/will do for you, especially if it's their job. Good email habits have clear boundaries. Here's your opportunity to set your own.
Defer It: Beware urgent work in the disguise of important work. Often the urgency of an email will entice you to break the two minute rule outlined above. But few urgent emails are also important (they just seem like it. When something comes into your inbox and it will take you more than two minutes to respond, defer it into a trusted system. For the Google Apps devotees, how about Google Tasks?
Once you've decided that an email cannot be Deleted, Done, or Delegated, and you've Defer it, go onto the next email. Once all your email is clear, THEN you can decide, from within your trusted system, what work is really important. But if you take on new email projects while there are still unprocessed emails in your inbox, you might as well assume you are doomed to inbox .
I will have more #inbox0 tips in the coming weeks, but sign up for the Rocky Mountain Google Apps for Education Summit and attend my series of Gmail management workshops!