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The inbox zero culture

Posted in Entrepreneurship on June 16th 2014

Four years of working as an entrepreneur and project manager in Shanghai has taught me a lot of things—most importantly that you have to faithfully adhere to some kind of ritual if you want to start each day right. For me, it’s a brisk shower in the morning and a big breakfast, which really sets my day on the right track. It might be too simple, but it works! Most self-help books and articles out there have all sorts of advice for improving productivity, but they are often one-size-fits-all. They fail to mention that the simple things—like a refreshing shower and healthy breakfast—can make the biggest impact. Ritual done, I head to the office, where a pile of scary, challenging, and often overwhelming tasks awaits me, which I have to sort out, prioritize and attend to. Whether it’s big or small, each one needs my attention—strategy planning, project management, dealing with clients, consulting with team members, PR, marketing, HR, and many others. **Multitasking is never an easy or elegant job.** We’re bound to miss something important, make mistakes, or worse – feel burnout, but over time I’ve learnt the fine art of it. I haven’t yet mastered it, but I’m enjoying each day more and more. Challenges are inevitable, but your attitude towards them makes all the difference in how you spend your days. In my case, turning the negative aspects of the work into something positive, and trying not to get burdened by too long a day of work. ##Loving my Emails I’ve recently bought an iPad Air, and I love it! Specially how productive it makes me. I’ve learned to anticipate what’s in my inbox, and look forward to answering my emails so I can move along through the day smoothly. For this, a simple but amazing app called [Mailbox](http://www.mailboxapp.com) is my life saver! With its simplified functions, just swipe (or long swipe) left or right and everything gets taken care of. I particularly relish on deleting those unnecessary emails that I don’t have to read at all. When not on my iPad, another email client I recommend is [Sparrow](http://sparrowmailapp.com/) for Mac—really useful and action-focused. My first goal of the day is to clear all my emails before I get to the office. Once there, I sort them out again and reply as soon as I can before the team arrives—that way I’ve slashed a good chunk of work early on in the day. That’s the beauty of the **Inbox Zero method.** Here’s how I go about managing my emails in detail: * First I **scan important emails** I need to reply to. If I can’t reply straight away, I mentally prepare what I’m going to say later, so it’s easier for me to compose the email when the time comes. * I **briefly read emails which I’m cc’d on**, make a mental note of who’s in charge of what project or task, and that’s it—I trust my colleagues that they’ll be on top of whatever assignment they have. * After all that initial sorting, once I get to the office, my mailbox is already down from 50 to a more manageable 25. * Once I send an email, there’s no reason not to **archive it**. Keeping it in my mailbox will just distract me from future tasks. * **Some emails I transform into tasks**, as a sort of to-do-list for the day. For this I use [Trello](Trello) which is great for organizing my time and keeping track of things I/the team needs to do. Thankfully, the magic of syncing has made everything easier—I create a task on my iPad, then I fire up my iPhone and it’s already there. It’s an old trick but I’m still amazed by how it works, considering that in the past, we relied on Post-It notes. * We also have a nice project management software called [Redmine](http://www.redmine.org/), which easily allows us to **organize our tasks**, and it jives nicely with the [scrum methodology](http://it-consultis.com/blog/what-is-the-scrum-methodology/). This process wasn’t just my doing. Our COO, Thomas Guillemaud, played a bit role in ensuring the steps fit our scrum methodology and also in making sure the entire team followed the process too. ##Get Rid of the Noise & Choose What You Want to Read No one likes a noisy inbox. One great tool for getting rid of all those notifications and newsletter subscription (which no one ever reads) is [unroll.me](http://unroll.me/). It’s brilliant, works well with Gmail, and my happiness level whenever I open my Mail has dramatically increased. Regarding those unread links: some well-meaning friend or colleague sends me a link, I click it but never get around to reading it, so the tab stays open throughout the day, staring at me like an unloved puppy. The simple remedy I’ve learned—save it in [Pocket](http://getpocket.com/). It’s a nifty app that gathers **all my saved links in one place for reading later**. Now I just go on a website, click the plus button, and it’s saved. For better archiving, I simply assign categories so I can find them later. [Feedly](http://www.feedly.com/) is also one amazing **RSS reader**. All the blogs and online newspaper I depend on so much are aggregated and organized in one place, accessible with just a tap on the screen. What’s nice is that I get to read and absorb new information that may or may not have anything to do with my line of work—but is just as important—as a way of staying updated and on top of current culture. Plus you never know when that piece of info comes in handy. ##The Joys of Inbox Zero The **inbox zero methodology** is not only applicable to emails we receive. **It can also be a nice methodology for getting things done in the physical world.** Of course, this won’t work perfectly if everyone else isn’t abiding by the same rules. How many times have you asked a colleague about how a project is going only to get an answer like “Oh, I totally forgot about it” or “I wanted to ask you how to do it but I didn’t want to disturb you”, or something along those lines. When everyone in the team is in sync and organized, the company runs smoothly. When everyone follows inbox 0/task 0, they become more proactive, motivated and have a sense of initiative. Which is great for project managers, as they won’t ever feel the need to push anyone for them to strive harder. ##Be Proactive and Have a Positive Impact Response time is something that I take seriously. There’s the usual perception that “important” people can afford to make others wait just because they’re busy and important. I don’t believe in that at all. If you are a very important person, it means you are responsible for a lot of people, all of them awaiting for your orders, comments and feedback. There’s absolutely no point in making them wait. So whenever you can answer an email straight away, go ahead! It’s all a matter of reciprocity. If I expect my employees to reply in less than two hours, then I must lead by example and do the same. There will never be anything bad about this, except that it’ll get things rolling, and what’s wrong with that? ##The Outcome That said, the culture of Inbox 0 depends a lot on how well you know your apps and the websites you have at your disposal to make the most out of them. The culture of the inbox 0 starts with you, with the simple act of sorting, reading, and replying to your emails. From there, everything follows—including, and most importantly, the way you interact with people. In sum, here are the pros: * You **never forget anything** * You **reduce procrastination** * You effectively **deal with a huge amount of tasks** * You’re **always on top of everything** So that’s how I get through each work day. I make sure I finish everything and leave work behind at the office—Inbox 0, Curators 0, Articles to read, 0, Trello board/Redmine up-to-date. It’s difficult at first, but over time the process gets easier and more rewarding. Let us know if this article has been useful to you. If you have additional tips and tools to make things easier for everyone, share it with us too.