Yeah, we know, philosophy is boring. We'd rather spend today's 10 minutes ripping through your email overload problem too. But this is important. Everything before today has been applicable to literally every email user. It's helpful, but none of the stuff before today is going to solve the fundamental email problem. Starting today, it will.
Before we get into how your Inbox needs to be organized and prioritized, we need to talk a little bit about the status quo. The world naturally splits into two types of email personalities.
Pilers are people who leave every message they've received since the beginning of time in their Inboxes. Meeting requests from 2004? Still there. Holiday e-cards from five years ago? Check.
On the other hand, Filers take every message out of the Inbox and move it to one of between 20-100 folders so that they can "find it later."
There have been religious wars about which method is better for the last 20 years, with Pilers calling out Filers for wasting too much time organizing and Filers scolding Pilers for being slobs. But it's like a war between a tax audit and a root canal. Neither one is worth a damn. If you're in either of these categories, you've been sucking at email.
If you're a Piler, it's difficult to tell what messages still require attention, so you can't give important messages the focus they deserve. Pilers are disorganized, unresponsive, and emotionally fatigued by living in a virtual pigsty. Filers are no better. It turns out that finding an email by sifting through folders takes 3.4 times as long as searching, and longer than just scrolling through messages mindlessly until you find the right one. You might as well play Starcraft; you'll be saving time and you'll be improving your fine motor skills.
Ready with some weak excuse about how every message you've ever received is still in your Inbox, but you've never let a single one fall through the cracks? Sticking with your 86-folders system even though it's slowing you down and making you less organized? Great. Quit the program, go look at pictures of cats, and go suck at email for another year.
We can't help you take control of your email if you're practicing habits that prevent a disciplined, effective approach. You have to commit to making real changes if you want to make progress. It's time to decide whether you're willing to try something different or whether you're here to pretend you're being productive and waste time. The choice is yours, and the time is now.
Still here? Great, thanks for sticking with us. Now that we've got your attention, we need to introduce you to a new system of managing your messages. The central concept is "Archiving" - and what it refers to is moving messages to another folder when you no longer have an immediate need for them. It's been around for a long time, but was most dramatically advocated by Gmail, when they launched almost a decade ago.
Under this system, what stays in your Inbox? Only two types of messages:
Everything else moves to one single folder. Let me reiterate - there's only one folder where messages need to go - not 3, not 7, and definitely not 25.
When we move messages to this folder, we allow our brains to focus only on the messages that are in our Inboxes - the ones that still need attention. We can only focus on seven things at once. That's how many old messages you want in your Inbox at any given time. The 7 messages that most want your attention.
Today's mission, if you choose to continue in the program, is to think about what messages are most deserving of your valuable attention.
In a few days, we'll revisit these important messages and provide some strategies for how to most effectively conquer them. For now, just keep noticing messages that still need your attention, even after you've read them.
|Finding an email by by looking through folders takes 3.4 times as long as searching||Tweet|
|We can only focus on 7 things at once, so only keep the 7 messages that most need attention in your Inbox.||Tweet|
So far this week, we've worked on reducing distractions, unsubscribing from low value email, and improving search techniques. Today, we laid out the fundamentals of thinking about managing our Inboxes in a new way. Instead of using our Inboxes as dumping grounds, or as a brief destination before messages are lost into folders forever, we'll use it as a place to see messages that still need our attention because they are either new or important.
Tomorrow's material will cover the practical aspects of making this transition. If you've made it this far, thanks for sticking with us - you'll be glad you did.