One Inbox Zero

Who is this for? Those who are deciding between merging all of their inboxes or keeping their various email accounts separate.

On a recent episode of Mikes on Mics, my co-host, Mike Vardy, and I discussed our respective approaches to managing our email inboxes. Both of us maintain multiple accounts spanning our personal and professional worlds, but Vardy keeps his various email inboxes separate while I prefer to combine everything into a single inbox.

Tomorrow I will touch on the exact tools and tactics I use, but to start I want to explain why this approach works for me. I also want to give some background which may help you decide if this approach is for you.

I receive a fair amount of email. I average over 100 messages a day. I have multiple addresses that center around my job, a few for various web projects, a purely personal account and what’s known as a bacon account.

There’s nothing wrong with using multiple inboxes. In fact, Vardy makes a valid case for keeping things separate, but here is why I opt for a one inbox approach.

Processing More Less

Getting into a regular Inbox Zero practice helped me stay on top of email but was a challenge with multiple email accounts. Early on I always felt as if I was constantly neglecting one inbox or another. I also felt like too much time was spent jumping between accounts (and remembering which accounts had and had not been checked). I went down to three accounts that consolidated emails from work, my personal life and my various web projects, but even this felt like too much. So eventually I rolled everything into a single account. Even though I potentially see more emails in a single sitting, I only have one place to check and feel better about checking it less often. I also never worry if I am neglecting any one particular email account.

One Person One Voice

Despite the fact that there will often be a clear difference in the way that I talk to a friend, a stranger or colleague, I don’t like to over think the tone I take when responding to emails as I process my inbox. By having personal and professional emails sitting side by side, I don’t give myself enough space to worry about which part of my persona should respond. I just focus on the best possible response. Some people prefer to have one voice for personal emails and another for professional correspondence. There’s nothing wrong with this. I’ve just found it to be more efficient to blur the line.

One Search To Rule Them All

As my personal and professional lives continue to merge and as my memory grows ever worse, I’ve come to count on search more than I would care to admit. When I had multiple accounts, I often found myself jumping from one to another seeking a message from a friend who sent a message to my work email or a colleague who accidentally sent a work email to my personal account. One inbox means one repository. When I search, all of the correspondence with that person comes up. It gives me a more comprehensive archive of messages and saves me from ever having to wonder where a specific message lives.

Making One Inbox Manageable

While I plan to talk about the exact tools I’m using and how you can go about setting things up in an upcoming post, there are a few general best practices for applying a one inbox approach to your work.

The first is to ensure that whatever desktop or mobile applications you use properly handle what are known as domain aliases. These allow you to control the reply-to address with little to no thought. You can set these up so that messages automatically respond from the same address they were sent from, you can group multiple accounts so that they respond to a single address or you can have everything respond from the same email account.

Consider setting up filters that group related accounts. I use a Gmail label to wrap up all of the work-related emails. This way, if I really need to focus or have a heavy load on a particular day, I can just filter out unread messages using my Work label and not see a single unnecessary message.

Mercilessly unsubscribe from nonsense. A one inbox approach will increase the amount of emails you see when you check email. Mitigate this by unsubscribing from any and all unnecessary notifications, superfluous email newsletters or spam that finds its way into your inbox. This takes effort in the short term, but in the long run it leads to far less nonsense that to process.

Getting To One Inbox

This approach takes a bit of setup, but once it’s up and running, you can send, receive and store emails from all of your accounts in one place with ease. If you’re at all curious about how to setup a single email inbox, check back for the next post or subscribe for free to the feed for a walkthrough of the tools I use to effectively manage all of my email in a single inbox.

Podcast – Every New Beginning

Who is this for? Those preparing to leave a job, start a new one or both.

Last week, I ended a 13 year career. Yesterday I started something new. Mike Vardy and I discuss this big ending and new beginning in the latest episode of the Mikes on Mics podcast. We examine how to best end one thing well while preparing to start another.

It’s an exciting time in my world and I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about in the near future, but for now, here’s how I’ve been approaching a massive change in my professional life.

What Does Your Personality Say About Your Productivity?

Who is this for? Those looking to better understand how their personality impacts their work habits.

One of the more useful takeaways from this year’s World Domination Summit was a framework for personality types provided by Gretchen Rubin (of The Happiness Project fame). While no framework is perfect, the following four categories accounted for a surprising majority of the room:

Upholders respond to both inner and outer rules
Questioners question all rules, but can follow rules they endorse (effectively making all rules into inner rules)
Rebels resist all rules
Obligers respond to outer rules but not to inner rules

I suggest you learn more about how this personality framework applies to you. I’d also recommend checking out Brooks Duncan’s insights into how they impact the way you approach your work and your goals.

Where Should You Start When You’re Struggling To Improve?

Who is this for? Those who want to improve, yet have no idea where to start.

My friends over at Asian Efficiency recently shared their 7 Truths About Productivity. They make several sound points, but I can’t help but feel as if they underemphasized what I believe to be an essential truth and a potential starting point for those looking to improve.

They examine self management, perfect systems, the importance of sex, time constraints, diet, technology and psychology. Throughout the piece they allude to what I believe to be the single most important truth: this isn’t about better understanding aspects of productivity, it’s about better understanding yourself.

When I first got serious about getting my act together, I put a fair amount of energy into discovering the tactics that might help, the tools I might try, the life changes I might make. I went to sites exactly like the one you’re reading now in hopes of discovering the secrets that would make all of the difference. These early experiments helped, some even made an impact, but they didn’t really make a difference.

The Problem With Premature Progress

As we look to improve, we crave progress. This usually implies forward motion. Our desire to forge ahead leads us to overlook our present struggles and motivations and causes us to overlook many of our current strengths.

My advice, forgo some of your productivity progress in favor of enhancing your understanding of current strengths, weaknesses, patterns and desires. Get to know yourself as well as you get to know the options that are available to you.

Don’t crack open Getting Things Done. Don’t download yet another app. Don’t try a new hack. Take out some paper or start a new text file and have at yourself. Really consider and clarify the way that you work. List out what’s working and force yourself to face what isn’t. Question your choices. Do you even want to get better at the thing you’re doing? Take the time to seriously examine who you are, what you’re doing how you’re currently doing things and what might be causing you to feel as if you need to improve. If it’s as simple as difficulty managing your volume of email, you’ll find no shortage of solutions. But it usually isn’t.

I’m not suggesting you start reading every self-help book out there, I’m not really even suggesting you stop considering your options. I’m just suggesting that you spend as much of your energy improving your self-awareness as your workflow. Much like that better workflow you’re looking to create, self-awareness takes time to cultivate. If you start by making self-awareness a priority, it will become a force multiplier.

The time I’ve spent enhancing this understanding certainly slowed my initial efforts, but it exponentially enhanced my long-term progress. A better understanding keeps me from trying things that would most likely be a bad fit. It lets me tweak what works for others to work for me. It has helped me to separate a critical issue that needs addressing from an interest that will soak up my attention, but do little to improve my creative output. It allows me to better observe my patterns and to catch myself when I’m falling back into old and unhelpful habits.

The Problem With Sites Like This

So many sites, including this one, encourage you to experiment, improve and evolve your personal productivity system. We suggest tools, tactics and life changes that can help you overcome whatever ails you. These are great resources as you progress, but their daily offerings are often a poor starting point.

As my friends over at Asian Efficiency later point out:

Technology is not the primary solution to your productivity issues.

You are.

[…]

Technology is a catalyst, not a fix.

Your knowledge, skills and insights are far more important than any app.

I think this speaks to far more than just technology and apps. It’s equally true of the tactics we attempt to adopt and tweaks to our psychology or physiology. We are always at the center of our challenges, and until we better understand them, we’re likely building around a core that is unstable.

My guess is that this isn’t your first visit to a site like this, and my guess is that whatever the other site suggested didn’t really fix the real problem. If it did, you wouldn’t bother reading a post about where to get started. So here’s what I suggest you try if everything you’ve been reading and everything you’ve attempted hasn’t worked: stop looking out and start looking in.

Don’t rush, don’t think of this as a box to check off. Consider attempting a larger mission. Make self-awareness an integral part of your attempts to do better. You aren’t just looking to improve your productivity, you’re looking to improve as a person.

Personalizing Someone Else’s Productivity System

Who is this for? While targeted at online entrepreneurs, this video can also help just about anyone looking to apply a basic, yet tactical approach to better handling their daily work.

I was recently invited by Chase Reeves to check out Fizzle, a community for online entrepreneurs that centers around carefully-created training videos. After watching his Productivity Essentials course – a great starting point for entrepreneurs struggling with their workload – I suggested that we have a “productivity throwdown”.

While I agreed with the big ideas and concepts of the course, I handle many of the smaller details differently. The overarching concepts he shares apply to almost anyone, yet I believe the details of how they should be implemented will vary from person-to-person.

Chase felt that a full-blown throwdown was excessive, but thought a conversation was in order. He even added the 35 minute discussion that followed to his Productivity Essential course on Fizzle.

It costs $1 to check this out (this also gives you full access the site for one month). If you’re struggling with your workload and are yet to dive too deeply into the world of productivity, Chase’s advice is well worth your time. As is our follow-up conversation on making it work better for you.

Note: This is not an affiliate link, I just like the approach and philosophy behind Fizzle (as well as Chase’s willingness to have someone “disagree” with him).

The Best Reason To Quit

Who is this for? Those who have a difficult time deciding when to stick something out and when to quit.

Gabe Weatherhead:

[T]o me, quitting always means that I’ve found some structure and priority where previously there was a lack. I don’t quit so I can start something new. I quit things when I remember what I want my life to be about.

Like Gabe, I’ve always struggled with the phrase “saying no to one thing is saying yes to something else.” Easily some of the best thoughts I’ve read on quitting since Godin’s The Dip.

If you’re considering quitting, be it a job or a project, read this first. If you’re not considering quitting anything, read this anyway. It’s Gabe at his best.

Make Twitter More Useful

Who is this for? Twitter users with a particular disdain for the ways that others use (or abuse) hashtags.

As we discuss in this week’s Mikes on Mics, social networks like Twitter can be a great tool for nurturing relationships. However as that network grows it can be a challenge to cut through the noise. While I’m not a fan of muting a particular person or topic, I am a fan of finding ways to make the time I spend on sites like Twitter more relevant and more fulfilling.

One of the less appealing aspects of Twitter is the way that many use hashtags. Apparently I’m not alone as Brett Kelly created a helpful pair of filters for popular iOS and Mac Twitter application, Tweetbot. These filters eliminate two of the more personally frustrating uses: excessive hashtagging and hashtag-based chats. This is a great way to find more of the signal by eliminating some of the noise.

Looking for more ways to cut out some common noise? Brett also points to a repository that collects similar filters.