Getting Things Done & Inbox 0

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I’ve been working on my productivity for months now. While it’s not something that I’m an expert at, I have picked up a ton of tips which have made me a more productive person, and I want to share some of those with you.

Getting Things Done

This all started a few years ago when I realized that I wasted most of my day, or I lost track of things easily. So I picked up David Allen’s Getting Things Done and found this awesome diagram about how to handle the “stuff” that comes into your life. (Yes, it was strange not doing anything, but reading a book called Getting Things Done. Nothing was actually getting done while I was reading the book, but I was sharpening my axe).

Sharpen Your Axe

The first thing you need to do is consolidate all the “stuff” coming in to you into one basket. For most of us, that’ll be your Inbox. If you see something at the store, take a photo & email it to yourself. Receive a paper document? Scan it and email yourself the PDF. Multiple inboxes don’t work.


I have one exception to this: snail mail. All of my snail mail gets shoved into a mail slot and not touched until Sunday morning (that’s when I go through my snail mail & pay bills).

Gmail Tips

If you’re using Gmail, you can make things easier for you if you enable one of the “Labs” features. Go to Settings > Labs and enable Auto-advance by Bruce D. Then in your General settings, change “After archiving, deleting, muting, etc. a conversation” to “Go to the next (newer) conversation

Still with me? There’s a few keyboard shortcuts that’ll make this easier, too:

  • # – archive the message
  • ! – delete the message
  • l (lowercase “L”) – apply a label to the message
  • r – reply
  • a – reply all
  • f – forward message

Learn these – you’ll be glad you did.

Set up filters & labels. I have a filter that labels all Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local etc emails as “Daily Deals”. Then, if I’m away for a while, I can simply search for “in:inbox label:daily-deals” and get rid of those emails quickly.

Finally (this is the last Gmail tip) there’s a shortcut to get to the oldest message in your Inbox. Maybe this is obvious to everyone else, but I didn’t know it. Click on the message range (1-50 of 278, for example) and a dropdown appears. Select “Oldest” and it’ll drop you to the last page.

Getting to Inbox 0

Getting Things DoneNow as you go through your email, refer to this flowchart and decide what has to be done with the message.

If it’s NOT actionable

you can either delete it, label it as something that you may want to do someday, or save it for reference. Then archive the message. Don’t leave it in your inbox!

If it IS actionable

and you can take care of the work in 2 minutes, just do it. If it’s going to take longer than 2 minutes, you can either delegate the work to someone else, or schedule it.

There’s some more to the system, but that’s the basics, and what I follow.

Inbox 0

Invest in yourself, sharpen your axe, and pick up a copy of Getting Things Done. I’ve got some specific tips on how to delegate work (and make sure it gets done!) and how to effectively schedule your day (including how to handle back-to-back meetings), which I’ll be blogging about soon.

If you have tips on maintaining Inbox 0, or have earned the badge yourself, let me know in the comments!

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