Inbox Zero

Several months ago, I was persuaded by this post by Andrew Gelman to try a new productivity method: “I will never again read an email without immediately handling it.” (There’s a whole blog on this topic.  And  nifty video.)  The idea is to prevent bloat in your inbox by keeping it empty.

Here’s the short report on how it’s going.  Not terribly well.  I’m getting better at dealing with the easy emails, but the scholarship-related long term projects are just sitting there like lead balloons.  (e.g., “how would this revision look,” or “here’s are some R-scripts. check them out when you’ve time”.)  Moreover, I now have created tons of subfolders to shunt incoming mail to (e.g., “friends,” “enemies,” “colleagues who are neither friends nor enemies,” “students who need to learn courtesy”, “SSRN abstracts I wish I’d written”).  This reminds me of how I cleaned my room as a little boy: move everything on the floor to under the bed.

I nominate this thread as an open one to discuss ways lawyers and legal academics handle the daily deluge.

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4 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    I really hate that you could almost spend all day just answering e-mails without getting the work done that you had planned to before you opened up your inbox.

  2. I tend to respond to emails as soon as they come, to the point of neurotic obsession. I’m not sure that’s the best way to go.

    I leave unhandled email in my inbox, and drop everything else into a folder. My inbox serves as a sort of to-do list; when there are a lot of items, I’m really busy, and when there are few items I’ve got time to work on all the things that matter.

  3. Alex Kreit says:

    I’ve been struggling to find an effective method for handling the email madness for the past year or so as well. My current approach, which is working moderately well, is to handle all of my email through webmail and use my mail application solely as a big searchable archiving tool. Within webmail, I delete or reply to (and then delete) anything that I can address quickly right away and leave everything else in my mail box to get to later. If the email concerns an upcoming event, I will put it on my calendar and then delete the message. I started doing this at the beginning of 2009 and was able to maintain an inbox of under about 50 messages up until around the middle of the year. But now I have many many many more messages than that and am getting dangerously close to the out-of-control email situation I was in just one year ago. I’m currently trying to decide whether I need to tweak my method or just work harder at doing email and applying it. … And, of course, all of the above refers just to my law school account. I don’t even want to think about my gmail account, facebook inbox, etc. etc.

  4. Kaimi says:

    I periodically clean my inbox down to the bare scraps. Then I let it balloon to 1200 messages. Then I despair of ever digging to the bottom, and I go post a comment or two on blogs instead. Eventually, I realize that my choices are either clean my inbox or write an exam, and I clean my inbox.

    I don’t think it’s the most efficient system.