It's 2:57PM local time in Saigon. I have some tea, some fruit, and I am in a comfortable spot. I will not leave this room until my inbox is empty.
I always keep it pretty low, but I got ~20,000 visitors over the last few weeks. Even answering more than half the email I was getting each day, my inbox is now built up to a staggering 73 messages, many of which require 5-10 minutes or more to process. (If they average 5 minutes each, I'll be here for the next six hours.)
I keep meaning to do this, but slagging it off. Hence, I make a public commitment. Burning the boats, as it were.
My general plan -
1. I have some Google Alerts built up - some of them got pretty long with links. I try to reach out to people to say thanks and hi and see who is linking here, so I've let these stack up. The first thing I'll do is copy them all down into another document, and then I can contact later or not.
2. I should write some template email for the start of replying to people. Hmm, hmm, hmm. Something like -
"Hey there - my inbox got totally slammed so I'm giving this an ultra-quick reply as described here - http://www.sebastianmarshall.com/damn-inbox-im-not-doing-anything-else-until-its-empty - but if I don't cover something important, please write to me again. I just wanted to reply to you before the apocalypse comes, so I'm hurrying this out."
Yes, that'll do. [I'm serious about replying if you got a template email and I missed one of your questions due to hurrying - I appreciate everyone who drops me a line, just haven't adjusted to how many emails and how much traffic/commenting I've gotten lately yet. But the inbox will be empty shortly, please feel very welcome to write again.]
3. The emails that require longer replies I'll star and archive at first, and then do them last.
Okay, Inbox Zero here I come. Public commitment made. I'll update you on how it goes.
Update 3:22PM Saigon time: Well, that was good. Copied all the alerts out, also saw a couple easy messages to reply quickly, or things I'd already handled I could archive. Down to 40 messages. The trickier part begins now.
3:45PM: Down to 25 messages. This might not be representative, because I'm replying to the shortest ones first... I also archived a few messages while adding to my things to do list "Follow up with XYZ person in ABC days" when there wasn't anything to do. I also sent a couple messages to people with complicated topics saying let's just hop on the phone sometime. Actually haven't used the template email at all... getting kind of restless, I want to stop and go outside, but I won't. Going to drink some water and eat watermelon, then get back on jamming on this.
4:40PM: Down to 19 messages, getting into the slower ones now. Ate my watermelon fairly quickly and didn't take a break for very long. Connecting with good people, but it's going slow at this point. Still, some very cool people who were waiting on a reply for a week plus from me, which is no good. Happy I'm getting this done, though I'm at low energy mid-day feeling right now. Will probably sleep relatively quickly after finishing this.
5:25PM: Two more emails came in, and now cleared out. Down to 16 messages total, all of them are going to take a while to get through and I'm slowing down, getting tired. Went to bed at 6PM yesterday, I meant to sleep 10 hours until 4AM, but then I wound up waking up naturally after only six hours at midnight. So I'm ready to crash - I'll jump on this before anything else tomorrow, still won't leave the room until done. I have a little fruit, so I'll make eat the fruit, make tea, and clear the rest of the inbox before starting on anything tomorrow. I'm a big believer in powering through things when feeling tired, but also of knowing limits and stopping when fatigued. Got from 73 messages down to 16 in 2.5 hours. Will finish up when I wake up from sleep.
4:30AM, the next day: Woke up, stretched, had fruit, made tea. Inbox back up to 23 - time to slay the dragon.
7AM: Dragon slain. I really wanted to go get breakfast at 6:30 and put it off to later, but glad I powered through. Whew! Would I have kept going without the public commitment, jumped on it first thing today, etc? Maybe not! Public commitments are powerful.
Great post. I actually dont open my emails in the moring until I have done some admin and got the days work started. You would be surpised how many hours can pass opening junk emails etc. Thanks for sharing
I hate it when the emails start to pile up. It takes me quite some time to actually get the motivation and determination to make myself sit down and not leave until I deal with them all.
I do a lot of replying with GMail canned responses now. Even if I write a blurb in the middle, my template is something like this (comments in parenthesis are not in template, they're just here for discussion in comment)
"Hi there! (I replace with their name, but this serves if I forget)
Thanks so much for your note! I sincerely appreciate the time you took to write - it means a lot to me, and I'm glad that my writing has helped you =) (fairly generic, but I can modify as needed)
(Blank space - for me to write in anything)
Thanks again for writing =) Have a great day!
And that's it. I don't see anything wrong with that as the only stock parts are pleasantries, and in the middle there is a very deliberate space for a thoughtful (albeit usually quite short) reply
Two weeks ago, I wrote "Damn Inbox - I'm Not Doing Anything Until It's Empty" - and then I cleared it out.
Now the sucker is back up to 45 messages. How'd that happen?
I think here's what happened -
1. My email volume has been going up, and I haven't adjusted to a new routine for it. Before I'd go into my inbox, clear a third of it when I had free time waiting for something, and then do that twice more in the day, and it'd be empty at the end of the day. Now, I'm going to need to set aside more time for it.
2. I'm answering/replying/writing a lot more emails, so it feels like it should be empty - but then I'm leaving one or two messages there that weren't there at the end of the day. This is like spending more money than you've got coming in - it's going to catch up with you sooner or later.
Okay, I've almost got all my email inboxes almost empty now.
I get a ton of mail. I hired an assistant and automated some of it, and I still get a ton of mail. More than I can answer normally.
I'm gradually building more systems, both technology, decisionmaking, and people to process all of this, because I have opportunities worth a lot of cash, a lot of cool stuff, and a lot of ability to connect with interesting people sitting in my inbox. At any given time, there's probably 3-4 very interesting things buried in the dozens of mails I get.
And I also get a kick out of helping people. I like getting and answering questions when I can.
But then I realized, one particular type of questioning makes me cringe, and I dont want to write back to people that write like that.