I’m hard pressed to come up with a topic as boring as ‘mail’, but I recently took a drastic step to counter my otherwise inate ability to never react to items passing through my inbox. This isn’t revolutionary as such, but it’s helped me tremendously.
I’ve hence found out that what I’ve been running is in essence a lite-esque version Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero. It’s ‘lite’ because — on purpose — I don’t receive a whole lot of mail on my private mail address, and at work mail volume isn’t really a particular issue. Privately I keep newsletters and mailing lists to an absolute minimum — I mostly end up in flame wars anyway, so… — and I’ve told most social sites to shut the hell up. In short, I make sure that what enters my inbox is important.
I used to leave all incoming mail in my inbox, except for whatever was filtered into various labels for organizational purposes. I left nothing unread, and if something needed following up on, I starred it. Then I’d forget all about the stars and it would get pushed down as more mail came in, and being lazy, I would happily forget about it. Goto 10.
A while ago I selected everything in my Gmail inbox and archived it. A complete reset of the inbox was needed to start anew, and from that moment on, anything that entered the inbox was either deleted, responded to immediately or left in the inbox. If an item is in the inbox, it’s because I’m not yet done with it, but recon I will be within a day or so. Anything with a longer horizon than that goes into my task list (just out of labs, press SHIFT-T on an open mail to create a task from it), which is hooked into my calendar, and thus under a great deal more control.
Now, when my inbox is empty, I can rest easy, knowing everything is taken care of.
PS: To make this easier for yourself in Gmail, go to the labs tab in settings, and turn on the ‘Send & Archive’ button; this allows you to reply to a mail and automatically archive it when you send it, which speeds up the process.