John Harding - Insert Catchy Title Here

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

No Inbox Thursday

I'm pretty bad about managing my time and staying organized. My company offers a GTD course, which I took and really liked, but I struggle to really keep up with it. Since the majority of my non-meeting work ends up in my inbox, my primary goal is just to effectively manage my inbox. In rough approximation of GTD and Inbox Zero, I try to flag everything that I need to read/respond to with labels of different priorities, and archive or forward the stuf I don't need to do myself. I try to keep five priority queues (which is turning out to be too many):
  • Urgent
  • Today/Tomorrow
  • This Week
  • This Month
  • Someday
In practice, I got to where I wasn't even able to clear out my "Urgent" queue on a daily or even weekly basis. Part of my problem is I'm not delgating/deleting enough - I'll find stuff in my "Today" queue that's months old and just wasn't really ever worth doing.

The other big problem, though, is getting distracted from working through my queued up tasks. Going through my inbox, labeling/archiving mails as needed, is easy on the brain and can be done in small chunks of time; working through queued up tasks is more time- and energy-consuming. The problem is, 50% of the time I respond to one of the "easy" messages in my inbox, it comes back 5 minutes later with a follow-up, and I spend all my time doing quick exchanges on a low priority item, just because each exchange can be done quickly.

My solution: No Inbox Thursday. My company has a standing policy of No Meeting Thursdays, meaning Thursdays are for getting work done and no one should schedule meetings that day, so engineers can have solid, uninterrupted time to work. No Inbox Thursday is the same principle, but applied to e-mail. I set my e-mail auto-responder to tell people to contact me via phone or IM if their issue was really urgent, and then spent the entire day focusing only on pending tasks that I'd already flagged for follow-up.

The result was fantastic - for the first time in months, I actually managed to completely clean out the backlog of items in my "Urgent" queue. I'd been worried about annoying people, but only one person complained, and most people were quite supportive of the idea. There was definitely a downside, as I had a lot of messages to process on Friday, but I'm convinced it was a net gain in productivity. I couldn't repeat it this past Thursday, as I unfortunately had too many meetings on No Meeting Thursday to make for an effective No Inbox Thursday, but hope to make this a regular occurrence in the future.



At 7:05 PM , Blogger John "Blogger" Harding said...

Thanks for the tip! I tend to be pretty loose with my implementation of GTD, as too much structure in tools/processes tends to frustrate me. I currently just use a Google Spreadsheet with a few different tabs.

At 2:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It looks like U.S. Cellular has the same idea for Fridays. Apparently RSS feeds and podcasts are my biggest distraction though!


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