Hovering Over The Inbox

wnylibrarian's picture

I like to think I'm doing pretty well. It's been about a year since I had done a self-productivity evaluation. Let's face it, every 3-5 years or so it never hurts to sit down and re-examine how you're doing things whether they be work, domestic, or even recreationally related.


It was about a year or so ago on a long drive that I had put on a podcast about productivity and I realized that in some areas I was deficient when it came to time management of certain tasks. As the miles clicked by on my drive I was already identifying key areas -- one of which was how I managed email.


One of the goals I was aiming for was to no longer hover over the Inbox. It had been a habit I had gotten into, almost unconsciously slipped into, in grad school and then later work. I had realized I was checking email way too often, like a puma waiting to pounce, and that was decidedly unhealthy in addition to being unnecessary. Not everything needs a response within minutes. It just doesn't. Maybe -- and this is a big maybe -- less than 5% were items of an urgent matter? Those items can definitely be managed differently, better, than the other 95% of the items that land in my inbox. So it was at this point I had decided to sit down and re-organize how things get done and I like to think looking back over the past year there has been a marked improvement.


For starters I re-organized my email filters heading to my inbox. Let's face it, there are some individuals whether it be professionally or friends outside of work that either need things done yesterday or are always in panic mode. If not left unchecked they can trigger yourself into panic mode as well when most of the time it is really not a crisis situation. For me I created a folder called for_review and I created a filter for the emails of such people to land in there. for_review is exactly how it sounds. Something for me to review as time permits, but nothing that is a Defcon 1 status. Call it a theory of crying wolf too often that gets your emails routed into this folder.


After this folder comes action_pending. These are the items that need my attention in somewhat of a timely manner for people who have a little bit higher stake in the game. That way I can address their messages and leave items there until certain tasks are completed. More commonly this is for an action on my part. If the email is a request, for example, I leave their email in action_pending and then archive it. If not a request or if it was simply a FYI then I read it and then archive immediately.


All this has helped with making the main inbox decidedly less cluttered. In a way the main inbox has become a supplemental action_pending folder for people not in my address book that I do not know. They still may need something acted upon and their email sitting there in its own way becomes an item on my To Do list before being completed and archived itself.


In terms of To Do lists or tasks I'm still using TickTick as I've mentioned before. TickTick still offers a few more advanced settings that Google Tasks does not (such as snooze features), but for some items if I want them to appear on my Google Calendar I then throw the task into Google Tasks. Another nice feature with TickTick is being able to tag items to group them together. TickTick also allows me to choose an end date for a task. For instance, I may perform a weekly task relating to my golf league from May until September; so I can end the task on September 30. Google Tasks also allows me to set up a weekly task but all tasks are endless; so I'd have to go in and remember to delete the task or change the next due date until May of the following year as the start date.


My goal for year two is to refine this management process where I can with continued tuning of task, email, and calendar management. I've found in the last 11+ months or so I've been able to actually free up my time to address other projects. As the cliche states, "Work smarter not harder." That's what this is really all about. Being able to time manage without some tasks or projects falling through the cracks or being pushed to the side. That still does and can happen by the way. The urgent needs of the now always dictate priority order. I admit even now there are a couple items at the top of my TickTick list I have not attended, but I leave them unchecked as a constant reminder they are still left undone. Almost a way of self-nagging reminders to myself. This is in contrast to a year ago where I'd forget almost entirely until the subject was brought up again. So from that stand point the process is working. That's a good thing.

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