TECHNIQUE 1: BATCHING
Read and respond to your emails only twice a day. To get started,
monitor your emails for one day without responding to get a picture
of when your inbox is busiest. Log into your account once every
hour, record how many emails are in your inbox, and note the two
hours of the day when your inbox is most active.
Then, create a schedule around your peak hours, and only check
your email at those times. TECHNIQUE 2: O.H.I.O (ONLY HOLD IT ONCE)
Eric Schmidt uses the O.H.I.O. (“Only Hold It Once”) method. This
means Schmidt immediately responds to emails that take less than
two minutes, so he’s not revisiting small tasks multiple times.
For example, if you have an email from a prospect asking to confirm
a meeting time, respond to it now. But if you get an email with a long
series of questions, finish what you’re working on now before you
TECHNIQUE 3: THE 3-FOLDER EMAIL SYSTEM
It’s no surprise the founder of Lifehacker, Gina Trapana, has a
system in place to minimize email as a disruptive
force. Use her 3-Folder Email System to better
categorize your emails, and by extension, your todo
The “Follow up” folder is for emails that require a
reply; “Hold” is for messages to be handled in the
future; and “Archive” is for emails that don’t need
TECHNIQUE 4: THE <50, <24 RULE
It’s hard to fathom what a billion dollars really looks like, and thus,
it’s hard to say what you’d do with that kind of money if you had it.
Same goes for your inbox. It’s hard to get your arms around an inbox
with 1,000 emails in it.
To keep your inbox under control, it has to feel psychologically
manageable. So put yourself on a 30-day challenge in which for 30
days, you don’t leave work until your inbox has less than 50 emails
(that’s one page in a Gmail inbox), and everyone has received a
response in less than 24 hours (business days -- if you get an email
on a weekend, reply Monday).
work until your
less than 50
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After 30 days, you’ll not only be caught up if you started as a
laggard, but you’ll never end a day or start a morning feeling like
your inbox is a beast that cannot possible be tamed. The time you
spend on email management will decrease if you force yourself to
keep the volume under a certain threshold on a daily basis.
TECHNIQUE 5: ONE MONTH OF UNSUBSCRIBES
For one full month, unsubscribe from email lists
and notifications with ruthless abandon. That
should provide enough time for you to get to all
of the email lists you’re on and make a decision to
keep, or unsubscribe.
No archiving or deleting just to clear it out -- every
email you see, for one month, you must make a
decision on whether to keep getting that email
going forward, or not.
An application called Unroll.me can help you
combine all the clutter you receive on a daily basis.
This is great for consolidating all those newsletters
you still want to get, but don’t want to have to keep organizing.
TECHNIQUE 6: SPRINT AND REST
Work in 90-minute sprints, punctuated by 15-10 minutes of “rest
period” in your email inbox.
Physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman, the pioneering sleep researcher
who co-discovered REM sleep, is also well known for observing that
humans alternate progressively between light and deep sleep in
90-minute periods. According to a Harvard Business Review article
by Tony Schwartz, Kleitman found that we operate by that same
90-minute rhythm during the day by moving progressively through
periods of higher and lower alertness.
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After working at high intensity for more than 90
minutes, we begin relying on stress hormones for
energy. The result: Our prefrontal cortex starts to
shut down and we start losing our ability to think
clearly and reflectively. You can better manage
your time at work by respecting the human
need for rhythmic pulses of rest and renewal,
and schedule time for low-stress tasks like email
triage and inbox management for after those
90-minute periods of active work that require
high levels of alertness.
TECHNIQUE 7: DUHIGG’S CUES AND REWARDS
Every time you have an urge and you do something about it, the
reward you get from it (whether it’s a tobacco high from smoking
or the satisfaction of knowing you’re at inbox zero) creates a
neurological pathway in your brain. When you repeat that action and
experience the same reward again, that neurological pathway gets
a little bit thicker; and the next time, even thicker. The thicker that
pathway gets, the easier it is for impulses to travel down it.
So when you try to extinguish a habit completely -- like, say,
checking your email constantly -- you’re actually trying to use
willpower to destroy a neural pathway. So if you’re having trouble
eliminating that email-checking habit, here’s what Charles Duhigg
suggests you do:
Diagnose the “cue” or the urge that sets of the habit
Diagnose the reward you get from doing that habit
Replace your habit with an activity that’s both triggered by
the old cue and delivers the old reward, or a version of it.
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So if you have a bad habit of checking your email every 30 minutes,
first, diagnose the cue. Ask yourself questions like: What time is it
when you feel the urge to check email? Where are you? Who else is
around? What were you doing right before? Ah, that’s it! You realize
it’s become a habit for you to check email right after you check
Facebook because they’re next to each other in your bookmark bar.
Now, diagnose the reward. What craving does reading email satisfy?
Maybe it’s the satisfaction of knowing nothing in the inbox is bold,
and thus no emergencies could be in there for you to discover later.
Figure out what satisfies you about that habit, and then replace it
with something that will make you more productive. In this case, I
might set up an autoresponder letting people know I’ll respond to
emails in less than 24 hours, but they can reach me by phone for
TECHNIQUE 8: SCAN-BLOCK-ASK
Email is a very common and important form of communication
for many workers, so bypassing it altogether until you’ve worked
through your own to-do list isn’t always feasible. This is where the
Scan-Block-Ask system comes into play:
SCAN your inbox for urgent and important items in the
morning, then close your inbox and open your actual to-do list.
BLOCK time on your calendar for processing email. Schedule
appointments at times that make sense for you each day.
Sometimes you’ll get through your inbox in 30 minutes, and
other times it will take longer. And if you ever get stuck “doing
ASK yourself if it’s the best use of your time right now. Most of
the time the answer will be no. This process allows you to put
email in the place on your to-do list.
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TECHNIQUE 9: INBOX TRIAGE
You may have heard the word “triage” as it relates to the
emergency room, but here’s a brief history lesson. The concept
of medical triage was developed during Napoleonic Wars by
Napoleon’s chief surgeon, Dominique Jean Larrey. He came up
with the process to determine the priority of wounded patients’
treatment based on their condition.
Patients were grouped into three categories:
Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they
Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they
Those for whom immediate care might make a positive
diference in outcome