This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Managing that Inbox

After posting about SNARF yesterday, and playing with it a bit more and reading through their community forum, it is clearly a research project and expects to have a few rough edges.  One of the big ones for me is that it only recognizes one identify of "me."  However, I have about a dozen email accounts from which I pull mail - some are various incantations of _me_, but others are administrative accounts for associations or non-profits with which I am associated, so my name doesn't appear there at all.  I also had someone contact me from ClearContext, pitching their inbox organizer. 

All this makes me think about organizing my inbox, of course.  Personal KM has to include some time to reflect on the skills, knowledge and tools I have.  Sometimes, I spend a little too much on the tools. 

The interesting concept behind SNARF and that ClearContext also incorporates is the idea that the people with whom I communicate on a regular basis are probably associated with mail that I want highlighted when I scan my email inbox.  This is particularly important when I come back from a long break, or when I get into situations where I just don't have the time to deal with everything right now.  Getting a better signal on what is important is key to reducing email stress.

Read on for additional thoughts about what I do now and what I'd like to be able to do with my toolbox when it comes to email.

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What do I do now?

  • I have a goal of an empty inbox, though I get there only once a month.  I generally have less than ten read-not-processed messages sitting there, taunting me.  When I near this goal, my email stress level decreases significantly.
  • When mail comes in, apply the 4-D's: Deal with it (respond and file).  Date activate it (set it to a task, get it out of inbox).  Delegate it (out of inbox).  Delete it.
  • Automatically file all the mailing lists, so it doesn't bother me in the inbox.  I can read these when I have the time - or not.  Lately, I've actively unsubscribed from a number of mailing lists that personally have too much noise for the signal they provide.  Outlook provides a handy right-click menu when I sign up for new mailing lists that lets me create a rule fairly quickly.
  • If I don't need to reply, don't reply.  Consider whether to Reply or Reply All, so as not to clog other peoples' inboxes.
  • Write clearly and succinctly, including a clear subject.  This helps both the recipients and me, when I look for messages later.
  • Use my folder structure to find recent mail.
  • Use desktop search to find older mail that is probably in a different folder than I'd place it today.

What I'd like to do

  • Help me answer the question, "Is there anything I must deal with in the next 15 minutes?"  When my mailbox is fairly empty, a quick scan of the messages senders and subjects is all I need.  This is the goal of ClearContext.  I perceive SNARF's goal to be more around helping me gauge a plan of attack, rather than getting me to the most urgent messages.
  • Group threads (particularly in mailing lists) in a useful way.  Lists based on YahooGroups never group their conversations properly.  At least not in Outlook.  Give me a quick option to see threads, including items I've deleted or sent.  (Both ClearContext and SNARF have something along these lines.)
  • Be confident that I am not missing messages.
  • Integrate with the other parts of my personal information cloud to get better information about the relevance of my correspondents, particularly my contact manager.  But also my task manager and calendar, so relevant items get noticed.

I'm sure there are others, but that should take me far enough.

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