Tag: email

How I Reach Inbox Zero in Under 5 Minutes Every Day

Now that you know that I do not check email from 12 pm – 9 pm every day, we can get to the specifics of how I actually process my email.

A few months ago I started using the Mailbox App for my iPhone and iPad. I’m such a big fan that it has actually replaced the prime real estate on my iPhone and iPad also known as the “dock.” Having said that, I must point out that there’s nothing actually revolutionary about it. It’s main benefit lies in the swiping gestures, which perform 1 of 4 actions:

  1. Swipe all the way to the right – delete message
  2. Swipe a little to the right – archive message
  3. Swipe a little to the left – reschedule message to appear in inbox at a later date & time (a feature I never use)
  4. Swipe all the way to the left – move message to a specific folder.

Speaking of folders… here are the exact folders I use:

  • Requires Action
  • To Watch
  • To Read
  • Udemy Sign Ups
  • Udemy Reviews
  • Unsubscribe

It took me a little while to realize that the “Archive” folder on the Mailbox app actually goes to the “All Mail” folder within gmail.

Before going any further, I should mention that at the time of this post the Mailbox app only works with gmail accounts. If you have a non-gmail account you can technically set up email forwarding from your non-gmail account to your gmail account, but as you might guess, that can get a little messy.

Why this is important

If you’ve done any sort of research on email hacking, you’d know that the goal here is to get to the promised land known as “Inbox Zero“. Merlin Mann (awesome name right?) the creator of 43folders.com coined the term back in 2007. In a nutshell, it involves taking all incoming emails and immediately doing something with them. That way we don’t have to look at everything when checking email, only the new messages. This significantly lightens the cognitive load on our otherwise overworked and under-appreciated brains. Sorry about that, brain.

Email processing across all my devices

When I check email on my MacBook Pro I use the built-in Mail application (currently running version 5.3). I also take advantage of the “Smart Mailboxes” feature. For those of you who don’t know, these are mailboxes that match any or all of the dynamic criteria which you set. Very similar to iTunes’ “Smart Playlist” feature.

Since there is no swipe functionality on my laptop, I created a few custom keyboard shortcuts to help with email processing. They are not all inclusive, but they do speed things up a bit. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • CMD + SHIFT + U: Mark selected message(s) as read/unread
  • CTRL + CMD + A: Archive selected message(s)
  • SHIFT + CMD + J: Move selected message(s) to junk folder
  • CTRL + CMD + (2-7): Move selected message(s) to Requires Action folder

The range of 2-7 here means that to move to the Requires action folder of my first email account, I use CTRL + CMD + 2, to my 2nd gmail account, I use CTRL + CMD + 3, and so on.

The only reason I have an Unsubscribe folder is because sometimes when I process mail on my device I don’t have time to click on the unsubscribe link in the email (or I’m in the subway and don’t have Internet access). I used to put these in the Requires Action folder, but that didn’t sit well with me. Much like the street food I ate last weekend. Damn you halal cart!

Not to toot my own horn but…

I’ve gotten so good at processing email, that I’m usually done in less than 2 minutes. Mind you, I only get a dozen or 2 new messages every time I check in the morning or evening. By the way, a big part of that is simply unsubscribing to all mailing lists or newsletters that I am no longer interested in (all of them except Ramit Sethi, Ash Ambirge, and a few other lucky ducks).

Then, I spend my time in the morning going through my Requires Action folder. These are the emails that usually require an intelligent and well thought out response. I originally thought I could do these at night, but quickly discovered that’s not such a good idea. Let’s not talk about that….

The verdict

Since my goal here was to spend less time with email, get more done, and at a higher quality, I’d say mission accomplished!

The best part? I sleep like a baby because I don’t have to worry about emails slipping through the cracks or the daunting task of manually organizing them all into folders. More on the results of my sleep hacking challenge in a later post. In the meantime check out Scott Britton’s sleep hacking course on Udemy.

Have some cool email hacks you’d like to share? I think I speak for everyone when I say “please share them in the comments!”

The Hidden Costs of Email Addiction and How I Finally Kicked the Habit

“Hi my name is Shir, and I’m an email-aholic.”

At least, that’s what I would have said 3 months ago.

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Just got out of the subway? Let me check my phone.
  • Waiting in line at the grocery store? Maybe I’ve got a new message.
  • Walking down the street in the most exciting city in the world? I thought I felt a vibration, it must be a new email!

Let’s be honest for a moment (after which we can immediately return to our natural state of deception?), 85% of the emails we receive are either unimportant or completely useless.

I’m not even talking about spam. I’m talking about social media alerts, Groupon deals, newsletters we’re no longer interested in, replied-all email threads, and the list goes on. Yet, our default settings on our phone still behave in a “oh oh oh! Pay attention to me!” fashion.

Louis C. K. talked about the downside of smartphones during his appearance on Conan O’brien. Take a few minutes to watch it.

Have we really become so desperate to avoid feeling lonely that we’ll check our phones 100+ times per day?

Speaking from personal experience

I remember how strong the desire to check my phone was. After all, receiving email meant “someone is thinking of me!” right?

It got so bad that I felt like Pavlov’s dog whenever the email alert came in. Whether it was a *bing*, vibration, or email counter increasing in number, I immediately began salivating (metaphorically of course).

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I was talking about it with my friend Georges Janin, and I decided to make a serious change. Part of the impetus for it was the disappointment that came from checking my phone every 5 minutes, only to find that I still had “no new messages.” I felt more and more pathetic each time.

I knew that if I didn’t create some kind of system, my will power would cave in under the weight of temptation. And why waste all that energy anyway?

It was official! No email during the hours of 12 pm and 9 pm

Why 12-9 you ask?

Well, I already know that I’m most productive between the hours of about 12 pm – 2 pm and then again from about 3 pm – 5 pm. So, in order to optimize my day, I needed to make sure those times were off limits. Nighttime on the other hand was perfect because I could still check email even when tired.

Some of the benefits of this arrangement

  • Wake up in the morning to a batch of emails, which serves as a nice way for me to start the day.
  • Eliminates the biggest distraction during my most productive hours during the day.
  • Helps me achieve my Wildly Important Goals (a.k.a. WIGs) faster.
  • After a day of being productive, I get to reward myself at 9 pm with checking email, which have accumulated to a much larger number than they would have otherwise.
  • No more disappointment of checking my inbox to find “no new messages.”

I really look forward to 9 pm because I’ll have more emails accumulated to process at once. It’s a much better use of my time to batch email in this way. There are many people talking about the benefits of batching, but Tim Ferris was the first that really illustrated that point for me.

Here are 2 of his blog posts on the topic:

I know what you might be thinking

“But Shir, that’s crazy, I can’t have a 9 hour email blackout during the day!”

Pull yourself together and stop making excuses! (I yell because I care) You don’t need to do it as long as that. You can find 1 or 2 times during the day that make the most sense for you to check your mail. Right after lunch perhaps?

The exact steps to follow if you have an iPhone (before iOS 7)

  • Turn off sound alerts
    • Settings –> Sounds –> New Mail –> None
  • Turn off vibration alerts
    • Settings –> Sounds –> New Mail –> Vibration –> None
  • Remove counters from the app buttons
    • Settings –> Notifications –> Mail –> [Individual Email Account Name] –> Notification Center = Off, Alert Style = None, Badge App Icon = Off, New Mail Sound = None, Show Preview = Off, View in Lock Screen = Off.

By the way, I recommend going to the Notification center and turning off all Badge App Icons for all your apps.

The Key Takeaway

I always respond to emails that are actually important in less than 24 hours. Nothing truly important slips through the cracks. And in the meantime, I have gained so much freedom. I am no longer a slave to my inbox!

Your Turn

Don’t forget, you could start small with a 2 hour email blackout period. You don’t have to go for 9 hours at a time like I do. The cool thing is you can use it as a reward for yourself once you finish what you need to (For more on how to use rewards, check out my post: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Rewards). Either way, be sure to share your experience in the comments.