43 Folders

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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Quick tips on processing your email inbox

Gotten a lot of messages since the email productivity post asking for more detail on how I process my email Inbox. Here’s a very brief overview from a response in the Google Group.

The basic idea is to firewall processing as a discrete phase you go through no more than every hour or two at the most. For God’s sake, don’t live in your Inbox if there’s any way you can avoid it.

Processing determines as quickly as possible what, if anything, to do with each piece (in ascending order of urgency and importance):

  • delete it
  • archive it
  • defer it for later response
  • generate an action from it
  • respond to it immediately (if it—literally—will take less than 2 minutes or is so Earth-shattering that it just can’t wait)

Then as often as time allows, I return to the response and action folders and crank through as many replies and complete (or generate) as many todos as I can—usually in 5-email sprints.

The critical point, as ever, is to focus on action and not on the administration and housekeeping. If the action is just a response, respond. If it requires more than a return email, either do it or get it in your “next actions” and keep moving.

As I said in the Google Group post, “you have to remember you’re in the business of making sandwiches—not deciding the prettiest way to stack the customers’ orders.”

Zen slap: An email auto-check set for every minute means 60 potential distractions every hour, or almost 500 per day. Look back at a week of your emails and ask yourself: how many distractions was that really worth? How much crucial, instantly actionable email did I receive to make it worth shifting my attention over 2000 times?

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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