I used to be obsessive about clearing out my inbox. Once a week was my preferred practice, once a month if all else failed. Then I just got sick of deciding where things went and I discovered desktop search clients that indexed my e-mail. So I switched to no filing at all and just archiving at the end of the month into folders labeled by year and quarter. Worked great, I thought. I could find things with a DS tool … of course this also meant that there was pretty much no way in h*ll that I could find something myself, I was bound to DS tools.
Yesterday I found (via LifeHacker) this post on Download Squad for clearing out your inbox and GTD. It got me to thinking. First I was thinking, yeah right, my system works fine for my so :P. Then well, I thought about the ways my current system was failing me. I have to use DS to find anything. No choice. I average about 1,000 e-mails (that I keep) per month. Lots of them are really important (like account settings and client contacts). As I’m getting busier, well this is going to start failing me in a big hairy way. Before I get into this a little more and describe the GTD leap forward I made today, here are the inbox clearing tips:
- If you don’t need to read it now, it shouldn’t be in your inbox.
- If you’ve already responded to it, it shouldn’t be in your inbox.
- If it comes from a known source (some person, retailer or mailing list that sends you mail more often than once every few months) it should be labeled automatically.
- No one needs to look at their own inbox more than once an hour (and for many, once every 2-3 hours).
- To borrow from the cult of GTD, re-factor constantly and mercilessly.
These are, undoubtedly, good tips, but for me they take too much time. One of the reasons I stopped filing things was that I kept having to create new folders all the time, decide if they were still useful, etc. Not fun. Rather anti-GTD, IMHO.
So let’s turn back the clock to last week. I saw on Download Squad (yes, they are one of my key reads) about this Outlook add-on called ClearContext. They released a new version that improved features and was going to be compatible with Outlook 2007. Always willing to try new stuff that is supposed to make my life easier, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
Wow. First, CC looks at your e-mail patterns and determines who sends you important e-mails. You can, of course, override the settings to up or downgrade people. You can also set priority by topic. Scot has been using it for years, but only recently discovered some of the priority features. Scot talks about the prioritization features really well, so I’ll skip it and focus on the inbox-clearing power.
Within CC you can give an e-mail or thread a Topic. Each topic has a folder created for it automatically. You can have CC auto-file e-mails for you, I’m not that adventurous yet, but what I did today was nothing short of amazing. In about 10 minutes I cleared my inbox of nearly 500 e-mails down to four. Four. How? Well I had been setting topics and priority for message for a couple weeks now. So I just clicked one message with a topic, told CC to file it and all the messages with that topic were filed. I didn’t have to decide on each e-mail. In fact if you assign a topic to an e-mail thread in after it started, all previous and future e-mails are labeled automatically. I didn’t have to pick and choose. They were just gone. I did have about 200 e-mails that I hadn’t assigned topics for yet, so I had to scroll down and do that (and deleted a bunch in the process … I’m an e-mail packrat). Still, it’s like the old days. I have a pretty clear inbox. I see new and important stuff right away, no scrolling.
I was so impressed with CC (even before I cleared my inbox) that I asked if they would participate in our upcoming contest (Scot and I will announce that next week). Let’s just say a few lucky people will get copies of CC Pro of their own.
CC comes in two flavours, free and Pro. You can try Pro for 30 days, then it switches to free if you don’t buy it. The folks at CC were kind enough to give me a free license of CC to let me review it completely.
Look, if you use Outlook, you need to try this add-in. Seriously. Trust us Pimps on this.