Several months ago I was introduced to the idea of "inbox zero" developed by Merlin Mann, as I looked for a better way to handle email. With Playbooks for Golf working for more and more of you, my productivity on projects was being continually eroded by a constant stream of emails coming in for all kinds of reasons and requests. My inbox kept getting bigger and bigger with emails I needed for reminders, project notes and direction, software support, and more. I had to do something and inbox zero was my solution.
After successfully using this idea for my work, I thought it would be interesting for you to consider. In my experience, a large percentage of you use email in one of two ways. First, some of you spend way too much time in the office crafting emails to members or club/course officials as soon as you get the mail, thereby losing time out on the course or managing that day. The other alternative is that some of you don't reply or read emails in a consistent or timely manner, if at all, which can be detrimental to your overall communications and career success. I tend to fall in with those that spend too much time with email right away, at least I used to until inbox zero.
The other alternative is that some of you don't reply or read emails in a consistent or timely manner, if at all, which can be detrimental to your overall communications and career success...
The general idea behind it is quite obvious: maintain your email inbox with ZERO mail all the time. It also calls for timed, structured protocol in composing reply email. This can be achieved by utilizing several components. The main ones I suggest are highlighted here. I began with 7,000 read emails in the inbox.
USE A TO-DO LIST APP
When I first started, I notice that a very large number of the emails in my inbox were really just there to remind me to do something. So the first thing I did was read what was the reminder for, and if was easy I just did it right away. Others that required more time I put into a reminders list with due dates on my wunderlist app, which I cannot function without. Now, hello delete button! That got rid of 3,000 emails I didn't even need, most were reminders for stuff from long ago.
FOLDERS AND LABELS
The next big chunk of email is typically for work projects. By fine tuning how I set up folders and labels, I was able to categorize all emails by project and type of work, thereby allowing easy filtering and searching when I did need to reference that email.
I had used folders before, but not in this aggressive of an approach where every email had to either be put in a folder or deleted. No exceptions. Another 3,000 gone.
Travel, order and shipment confirmations fell under the folders category too, one for each. When new mail for these come in, they go into those folders and I can access them when necessary. I then periodically delete them once they are no longer useful or valid. 500 more eliminated.
A final big folder category is for software downloads, logins, special instructions, etc for technology products I use for work. Very nice to have those all in the same place at any time. I have even started saving email newsletters to tips and tutorials on software that I can easily get to and view when I have free time, all of which I would never likely get to in my jumbled old inbox. Final 500 emails gone.
Zero email in the inbox, it felt good!
TIME MANAGEMENT PROTOCOL
Now comes properly handling future incoming email. As I stated, my objective was to get some efficiency and time back during my work day. In order to do this I set up some basic rules that work very well:
Only check email every 30 minutes while at work. When checking, reply to any email that an answer can be written in 1 minute or less right away, or a phone call is required immediately. Those that will require longer replies, move to the Email Action folder. Reply to the sender that you are on it and will get back to them as soon as possible. I then have a timer set on my calendar for every day at 4pm for Email Action. At that time I go in and reply to those emails. I have a set time of no more than 10 minutes for each email or 40 minutes total. I have yet to run out of time because the time limit toward the end of the day really makes me go with key information quickly, instead of trying to sound just-right in every sentence or over-explain. I thought at first that the communication would be less in quality than before, but in reality it has remained constant by eliminating over editing and thought process.
So it goes: Read email at 30 minute intervals > reply, take action, set reminder or put to folder > delete. Repeat. Back to inbox zero.
This really freed up tons of time in my day to get back to project work. I think that superintendents would really find value in trying it out. I know from experience both on the course and networking with you all that many struggle with email management, whether admitted or not. Give it a shot, you won't regret it. Now I have 7 new emails to destroy from my inbox...