Mail/task management – zero inbox and improved productivity

It has been one of my passions for years to optimize my personal incoming work and use minimum amount of time to progress each item. I have been working with Personal Kanban boards in both electronic and physical versions and also done some teaching and talks about this (see fx here). The list of inspiration is long and covers Pomodoro technique, GTD, the work from “Stephen R. Covey”, many Lean principles/practices etc. I have been using many different advanced setups in MS Outlook, (tagging, tasks, flags, add-ons), MindManager, post-it notes apps and many different GTD apps. But my current setup is very simple.

One of the main input streams has always been all the mails (especially in my current job) and I have been experimenting with many different practices to optimize the flow. It is a long journey, and this post will only briefly explain the current stage today, and I expect it will continuously be improved in the future.

Today is my first day back on work after two weeks of vacation and my inbox was not exploded. I must admit that I also left for vacation with an empty inbox but also my current strategy has reduced my mail progressing time dramatically. The above picture shows how I currently organize my inbox and the Inbox will show zero items after next time I progress new items.

My current strategy

  • Only using Outlook (until recently I combined Outlook with MindManager to manage larger tasks, but now I only use Outlook)
  • Focus on zero items in my inbox
  • Pull items when I have time and have NO notifications at all
  • Work with 3 Queues, an archive and a list for mail notifications
    • Indbakke (Inbox): All new items
    • 1-Action: Requires some more time to answer or work on
    • 2-Hold: Currently waiting other people to answer or I need to follow-up later
    • 3-Archive: All archived mails and tasks
    • Notifications: Auto mail from different sites that I have subscribed to

It follows the below workflow

After starting using this strategy I use most of my time in the “1-Action” queue working on larger items and I am not distracted by a lot of other mails in the inbox.

Some additional hints

  • Some of the folders in MS Outlook (what I consider as Queues) are showing number of items in the folder (green number) and not number of unread items (blue number)
  • The 3 queues (1-Action, 2-Hold, 3-Archive) is also synchronizes on my mobile phone, so I can progress items when only having my mobile phone

Next step

  • I think my next step will be to add rules so I can post tasks directly to the “1-action” queue from any mail client

Posted on July 25, 2011, in Lean, Productivity. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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