The Faster Pastor  "Zero" Inbox

The Philosophy


I live in my email folders. Everything comes there. RSS Feeds, To-Do Lists, Reminders, Tasks, Contact Information, Devotions, Bible Readings, everything. 

All in one place. All where I'll see it. All where I'll get it done. 

But wait! Won't that get overwhelming?! 

Not if you do it right. Not if you take time to process what's there. The problem is that so many people don't do email right. Consider this excerpt from a blog I read...


Doing Email Badly


To better understand why so many of us do email so badly, let’s draw a comparison to a real-world object: your mailbox. Imagine if you treated your actual, physical mailbox like you treat your email. Here’s how it would go: 

You walk outside to check your mail and reach into your mailbox. Sure enough, you’ve got some new mail. You take out one of your letters, open it up and begin to read it. You get about halfway through, realize it is not that interesting, stuff it back inside the envelope, and put it back in the mailbox. “I’ll deal with this one later.” You open the next letter and find that it is a little bit more interesting, but you do the same thing—stuff it back into the envelope and put it back inside the mailbox. Other mail you pull out and don’t even bother reading—it just goes straight back inside the mailbox. And sure enough, your mailbox is soon crammed full of a combination of hundreds of unopened and unread letters plus hundreds of opened and read or partially-read letters.

But it gets worse. You don’t just use your mailbox to receive and hold letters, but also to track your calendar items. You reach in deep and pull out a handful of papers with important dates and events written on them, including a few that have come and gone without you even noticing or remembering. And, of course, you also use your mailbox as a task list, so you’ve got all kinds of post-it notes in there with your to-do items scrawled all over them. 

But we aren’t done yet. Even though you feel guilty and kind of sick every time you open your mailbox, you still find yourself checking your mail constantly. Fifty or sixty times a day you stop whatever else you are doing, you venture down the driveway, and reach your hand inside to see if there is anything new.

It is absurd, right? Your life would be total chaos. And yet that is exactly how most people treat their email. It is chaotic with no rules or procedures to control it. What do you need? You need a system.

Workflow Management 


So here's my system. Not every productivity guru will agree with me as I still do live in my inbox and use it as my task list and my reminder system. But I process everything in my inbox and move it out if it doesn't need to be there that day. Let me explain. First, let's talk workflow management. 

This is my adaptation of David Allen's GTD workflow management flow chart. I'll show you the chart first, then I'll explain it below...

Rob's Workflow Management Plan

THE 7 D’S OF WORKFLOW MANAGEMENT

As far as I’m concerned, there are only 7 things to do with any piece of information that comes across your desk. And to keep it simple and memorable, I found 7 words that all start with “D” to help me remember them. Here’s what I think you can do… 

  1. DESTROY IT
  2. DELETE IT
  3. DRAWER IT
  4. DELAY IT
  5. DELEGATE IT
  6. DO IT
  7. DIVIDE IT

And with this document I hope to share with you my system of managing all the stuff that comes into my life by capturing and processing it all with these 7 actions.

The "Stuff"

First of all, before I walk you through all 7, we should talk about the “stuff” that needs processing. It’s really any bit of information that comes into your life that you need to look at and figure out what to do with. For example, when you go to your physical mailbox, you pull out the mail and figure out what to do with it. If it’s junk mail you toss it. If it’s a bill, you set it aside to pay it. If it’s a magazine you want to read later, you put it in the bathroom. (Or is that just me?) But you process it. You don’t just stick it on a pile in the kitchen that grows larger every day. (At least I hope you don’t.) 

But what about all the other stuff? The phone calls you need to return, the ideas you want to explore, the tasks that need to get done, the conversations you had, and… oh, no!... the emails—the dreaded emails, the thousands and thousands of emails—that need to be processed every day, or they all just grow into a bigger and bigger pile? All of that is “stuff” that needs to be processed. How do you do it?


Step #1 – Capture It

If you try to keep all of this “stuff” in your brain and hold it there, there are only two possible outcomes that I know of: 1) You will inevitably forget stuff. We all have too much to do to hold on to it all. Sure you might get the stuff that’s absolutely necessary done (because you’ll get scolded or fired if you don’t), but all those “good intentions” tasks will slip through the cracks and will never happen. Believe me. I speak from experience. Or, 2) you will go crazy.

So, step one is to capture all that “stuff” that needs to be processed. Some people like sticky notes. Others like a nice leather-bound planner and a fountain pen. Some like writing notes on their hand. I personally like my email inbox. I know that most productivity gurus tell you that this is a dumb idea. Tasks should be kept separate from emails. But I beg to differ. When I use my system, tasks I can’t do right away, don’t clutter the inbox. My inbox is usually clean and clear except for things I need to take action on right away. About the only time I ever have more than 5 emails in my inbox is when I’m on vacation or away at a conference. But even then, I usually keep it under 10 or less.

But for now, just bear with me. Hear me out. And take what you want from my system and leave the rest. You won’t hurt my feelings if you think it’s a dumb system. It’s working great for me and I’ll keep it either way.

But step one is to capture it all. I like email because…


1)    I can capture things at my computer or from my iPhone, so basically anywhere.

2)    My phone camera let’s me take pictures of business cards, receipts, reports, and anything else paper (even the occasional sticky note).

3)    I can access my captured data from my computer or from my phone. I’m not in trouble if I left the sticky notes at my computer or forgot my planner at home. I never really leave home without my iPhone, but even if I did, I’d just need email access from any computer to find what I need.

4)    My “stuff” is all backed up. At least the stuff I want. (Unless, of course, Google goes belly up. In which case, I’d need a new email address. But I still wouldn’t need a new plan.) If I used a paper planner and lost it (which I’ve done), it’s a giant mess.

5)    Everything is in one place. I don’t have one app for tasks and one app for appointments. I don’t have sticky notes here and To-Do lists there. (Yes, I use a calendar. But I use Google calendars with integrated email reminders. So even those appointments show up in one place.) I only have to check one place for the stuff I need to do.

6)    It’s a very simple process. There’s really no learning curve to sending yourself an email. You don’t need to set up a new app and learn how it works. (I’ve wasted way too much time learning systems that were too complicated for me to use well. They were fun, but ultimately not worth the effort.)

7)    It’s all searchable. I don’t bother with folders much anymore. I just label stuff well so I can easily find it by a search later.

Of course, if you just capture the information the tool is only as good as you use it. You have to process the emails well or they will back up making you bogged down.

Step #2 Process It

 

When it comes to processing, I ask 4 questions. They’re relatively simple, but they guide my decision on what to do with any piece of information. Do I… 

  1. DESTROY IT
  2. DELETE IT
  3. DRAWER IT
  4. DELAY IT
  5. DELEGATE IT
  6. DO IT
  7. DIVIDE IT

The way I figure that out is with these 4 questions…

 

Question #1 - Do I want it?


The Tools


A few free tools will help you keep your inbox manageable:

Gmail.com



Declaring Email Bankruptcy


"But, Faster Pastor," I hear you cry, "How do I get started? My inbox is already so overwhelming!"

Your servant in Christ,
Rob Guenther, The Faster Pastor 

PS. Oh yeah, and I'm kind of a cheapskate too. So I really love the programs, resources, tips and tricks that cost me nothing or next to nothing.  Most of these resources are free for anyone to use.

My Productivity Philosophy


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