You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks: Inbox Zero for 15 Days

December 17, 2008

I’ve struggled with email for years. I’ve got a bunch of accounts — most of them garbage collectors — and had no strategy for maintaining them. I’m a huge Google Apps user, and Gmail, regardless of the privacy concerns many of you have (Jamie), kicks ass. I just wasn’t using it properly. When it first came out, I got an account on the first day thanks to being a friend of a friend of Andre.

I set up my account and went a bit nuts on the tagging. It was a mistake that would take me years to correct. About two weeks ago, Scott Beale at Laughingsquid posted this tweet. The clouds parted and stars aligned.

I’ve been a fan of the 43Folders and of Merlin Mann for quite awhile, and knew I had a problem, but this reminder seems to have been the trick. I watched the video (below), laughed a few times, eliminated about 95% of my email tags, added a “>>DEFER” tag and about an hour later hit “Inbox Zero” for the first time in 6 months. That previous, and only time, lasted for less than 12 hours.

The keys? Realizing that I never dig through folders or tags to find things. I use the ridiculously fast search functionality built into the Gmail system, so archive works great on almost anything. Additionally, I’ve given myself the right to flat-out delete a ton of stuff. There is no more, “I might need this someday,” running through my head. I know whether I’ll really need it or not and I make a decision.

I don’t keep a browser open with email any longer either. I check roughly hourly which lets me get so much more done. It’s really liberating.

The “>>DEFER” tag allows me to move those things that require more than a minute of my time for a response or action. I’ve never had more than 5 things in this state at a time and it’s actually a pretty great email-centric “To Do” list.

Anyway, here’s the 58 minutes of video that changed my email life (at least for the past two weeks):

4 Responses to “You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks: Inbox Zero for 15 Days”

  1. Mike Says:

    Thanks for the post. Comment on the vid – I think I would rather watch someone walking and talking than slides. But I guess I didn’t watch it at all, so what am I complaining about? I listened only mostly.

  2. Tagging this post to watch later. Especially since I got a jab thrown at me for my tinfoil hat tendencies! 🙂

  3. I should say:


  4. Mike Says:

    oh oh, got to the point where he says “I am not a librarian” – he doesn’t feel the need to categorize. I categorize shit. I am a librarian.

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