Approaching Inbox Zero in Gmail

Earlier this year (yes I meant to send this out much earlier) I went to a meetup hosted by my local PyLadies group. There Tracy Osborn of Wedding Lovely and Hello Web App fame gave an amazing talk about marketing for developers. I was truly inspired by the talk, and I feel it was very relevant for me, especially as I try to launch my first product and startup Amber Penguin Software. I could write a series of blog posts just on the content from this one meetup alone, and I probably will over time. But today I’ll focus on one thing in particular that I’ve learned from Tracy.

Getting to Inbox Zero

Nowadays I try to not organize my day to day tasks, by either my inbox or even one of my many, many Trello boards. Rather I try to bite off a few urgent and important tasks each day. Still I end up spending time on tasks initiated from emails in my email inbox. Unfortunately my inboxes seems to fill up faster than I can manage them at times. I would love to have a clean inbox as in Inbox Zero technique but more importantly I want to be much more responsive to the emails I get. Also opening up my email can be overwhelming when I see the number of emails in my inbox.

Using Multiple Inboxes in Gmail

One of the things I learned after the meetup, while browsing Tracy’s site was a technique to get my inbox under control at least in Gmail. In essence, you need to enable the “Multiple Inboxes” lab experiment in the Gmail Labs settings. Then you need to write a few filters such as is:drafts || label:follow-up (which happens to be my filter for follow-up emails) for each particular inbox. Et voilà! You have a much more manageable inbox that is subdivided into categories, and the actions you need to take.

Where it works and where it doesn’t work

Unfortunate this technique only works in Gmail at the moment. Some other webmail providers maybe have a similar multiple inbox solution, but unfortunately ProtonMail does not but it is a suggested feature. So my ProtonMail will probably lag behind in terms of how quickly I respond, unless I or someone else implements the multiple inbox feature in ProtonMail.

However where I can use multiple inboxes like in my Amber Penguin Software email (managed by Gmail) it has drastically improved my email experience and my own responsiveness. My Gmail still needs some love to get everything under control, but once I do I will be much better at replying to emails. Ultimately this technique helps you become more confident in categorizing your email, and then acting up on it when the time comes.

Time Management Resolutions for 2009

The fifth day into the year, and I can already foresee a number of huge changes in my life.  As I mentioned before the transition from thinking like a university student to a fully self-sufficient adult is a pretty huge one.  One of the things that I foresee is a glorious lack of time.  Essentially, I took upon a large number of personal projects and I might take on a few more this coming year.  And every task and every idea needs time to realize and complete.  So I decided upon a few New Years resolutions:

  1. Keep my tasks and projects organized.  I’ve worked out that I will keep to the core concept of the GTD methodology.  All that I need is some central, efficient manner to organize my evergrowing TODO lists.  At the moment I am experimenting with a number of different applications, to avoid the dreaded list on a piece of tattered paper syndrome.
  2. Handle communications efficiently.  I am already using the Inbox Zero method.  And for the most part I can keep track of everything and handle e-mails quickly.  My personal e-mail inbox is usually has zero messages.  My work inbox is a bit more chaotic, but I’ve gotten it down to zero in the past.  Nowadays no more than 30 e-mails stay in my inbox.
  3. Avoid wallowing and putting things off.  OK, this is a weak spot in my case.  There are days that I don’t feel like doing anything.  Unfortunately, while there are times my life feels like on hold, the world doesn’t stop.  So in essence I put off all kinds of work and only more piles on.  And it gets to the point that I get depressed just by looking at all the things I have to do.  Instead this year, if I feel like I am in rutt, I will take some menial tasks.  That way I keep my mind off whatever I am thinking about and still get stuff done.
  4. Do it now, not later.  One of the worst things to litter my tasks are the little day-to-day incidents.  The little errands, the little messes of life so to say can generate a disproportionate amount of work.  And it adds up.  Quickly.  So I have to stop procrastinating on these little tasks.  I think it is more effective to take all these little nuisance tasks, aggregate them together and do them all at once.  That way I can avoid task switching-even thought my task log method helps with that a bit-and clear these trivial things before they get out of hand.
  5. Keep taking bits off the big projects.  I have a number of large projects.  Some involving writing, some involving coding, etc.  Now I know that I can’t just sit down and finish a large part of a project.  My schedule and life in general won’t allow for that.  So instead I plan on taking bits and pieces off each my big projects each day.  And I’ll incorporated those bits into my daily tasks.  That way my projects will go forward a bit every day.

Now I should be able to accomplish all these resolutions without too much trouble.  My biggest concern is to make sure my tendency of inactivity doesn’t get in the way this year.  These resolutions should not only reduce the size of my TODO list.  But they should also remove a great deal of stress.  And the sense of accomplishment will definitely shine through on days where all I want to do is sing the blues.  So wish my luck and may you too have productive and joyful year ahead.

P.S.: I hope that by writing these blogs on time management will help someone.  Or at least inspire someone to achieve more in their life.  If they help you, please give me a shout on the comments section.  I love to hear from you and read your comments.