Scheduling future tasks to get down to a zero inbox

I practice a zero-inbox philosophy, because I find when an inbox is full, it:

  1. causes stress every time you open you email,
  2. results in stuff getting forgotten because it gets buried, and
  3. wastes time because every time you open your inbox you spend time scanning and considering what’s in your inbox before likely ultimately deciding to do nothing.

Calendar screenshot

So, I try to act on emails as soon as I read them. But what if you truly need time to think about something, and acting now isn’t necessary?

It seems basic, but I add an ‘event’ to my calendar (I use Google Calendar but any calendar, paper or electronic, will do). I have more than one calendar in my overall Google Calendar – one for actual commitments/meetings I have so that people don’t double book me, and another for ‘soft’ commitments – things to get done but not necessarily at a specific time (I call this calendar “Tasks”). The calendars each have different colours. (In this post’s image green=commitment, aqua=errand, burgudy=task).

As an example, say I get an email about an upcoming conference. I don’t know if I can attend because of a tentative trip. The early bird registration is on June 15. So I…

  1. Put an event in my Tasks calendar for June 13 at 9:30am with the title “Is trip confirmed? Conf early bird reg Jun 15.”
  2. Archive or file the email, and get it the heck out of my inbox.
  3. Forget about it.

I also use this technique to remind myself to follow up with people in case they haven’t gotten back to me, and even to remind myself to connect with friends on important days (e.g. “text Andrea to see how her first day of work went”). This way, I don’t have to keep running these things through my mind in order to remember them. I just rely on the power of the calendar.