I get a lot of email. I’m sure you do too. Work emails. Personal emails. Newsletters. “Helpful” notification emails. Even more “helpful” marketing emails for more stuff you don’t want or need.
Like most people, I struggle with the tension between staying on top of the information flow and staying away from email long enough to get real work done or enjoy downtime with friends and family.
When I heard about Inbox Freedom (ironically, I was surfing Twitter while procrastinating from tackling my overflowing inbox), the promise – tackling email like a zen-master, freedom from the tyranny of the inbox – was too alluring to ignore.
I immediately downloaded it and dove right in. A few hours later, the easy part was done (reading the book). The tough part now lies ahead – changing habits and letting go of the addiction of checking for new updates in my inbox.
Mike Ghaffary & Charles Hudson are incredibly accomplished, busy guys. Mike’s currently VP of Biz Dev at Yelp, and Charles is a repeat entrepreneur and venture partner at SoftTech VC. They get a LOT done with their time, even holding down multiple jobs at times. I’m confident that I’m nowhere near as busy as them, so if this system works for them, then it should work for most of us. It’s been field tested.
It’s also inspired by principles behind two classic productivity frameworks: Getting Things Done; and the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Mike and Charles have adapted those principles for the email-rich, instant-messaging, always-on/always-connected, constant-interrupt professional world we live in today.
Over the years, I’ve seen (and tried) a lot of attempts at taming the inbox. Most of them were variants of the “just don’t open your inbox for the day and it will all go away” strategy. That’s wonderful if you have that luxury. But for those of us who have customer or external facing roles (CEOs, lawyers, accountants, VCs, and others), where responsiveness is critical to your effectiveness & reputation, Mike & Charles demonstrate principles and tactics for thriving in this reality.
I strongly recommend buying this book, implementing their recommendations (and adapting it to your reality), and then making a bucket-list of all the things you’re going to do with your new-found freedom!
Steps to Get to Inbox Freedom
- Do an Inbox Audit: How do you use email? How important is it to your work? How do you email “up” (to your boss or bosses)?
- Go Mobile: Setup your systems so you can do everything on your smartphone (not tablet) – respond & archive emails, create & edit docs, sign docs, find & send docs, etc.
- Go Proactive: Separate your inbox from your task lists & wish lists; Write actionable, achievable, unambiguous tasks with honest due dates.
- Setting you your Calendar for success: Don’t schedule back to back meetings; Use the morning commute or post-wakeup time to quickly clear up emails; use the first minutes of your time in the office to knock off 1-2 priority tasks (not email); use the end of your day to get to Inbox Freedom daily by 6:00pm (or whenever the rush of the day ends); learn to say no to meetings, default to 30 min meetings, schedule time for long tasks.
- Setting up Notes & Docs: Put your docs in the cloud; take good meeting notes (3-5 points + action items); use lots of different types of wish lists (but keep them separate from your meeting notes).
- Customize it to fit your life!
Before & After
To help me easily remember what pre- & post-Inbox Freedom looks like, I summarized the key parts of the book into this before/after table. Enjoy!
|Before Freedom||After Freedom|
|Reactive to what’s coming in on the stream (doing what others say you need to do)||Proactive in deciding what to tackle and how to spend time (doing what you think you should do)|
|Touching emails/vmails multiple times with no forward motion||Only touch it once: Do (<30s), Defer (to task list), Archive|
|Inbox as task list||Inbox is not a task list.Task list is separate. Wishlists are separate from task lists.|
|Can’t do everything when mobile||You can do everything you need to when mobile (reply, archive, edit/sign/attach docs).|
|No system or framework to deciding what to do||Customized system or framework that works for you|
|Recent = important||Recent != most important|
|Turning everything into a task||If something can be done in 30s or less (quick response, add to pocket, intro, one word/sentence responses) just do it. Pro Tip: Construct your life in ways that more things can be done in 30s or less (Amazon Prime, Auto-bill pay, TaskRabbit, delegate)|
|Day ends with a long pile of emails||Get to Inbox Freedom EVERYDAY by 6pm. During your Hour of Power (5-6 or 6-7), you make the push to get to Inbox Freedom.|
|Using email for everything||Using email when appropriate, and using other tools in other times (IM, face-to-face conversation, txt message request for a call.)Tailoring comms to your higher-ups’ styles|
|First thing you do in the office, email||First thing you do in the office, top two priorities|
|Asking for approval over email||Emails with declarative statement with opportunity to object (we’ve decided this is best course, we going to do this, silence = approval, object now if you want)|
|Bad action verbs, vague tasks||Good action verbs (unambiguous, literal, narrowly defined, something a robot would get), actionable, achievable tasks (first next step)|
|No due dates or too aspirational||Honest due dates|
|Tasks pile up||Actively, constantly pruning tasks that no longer need to be done|
|Tasks & Wishes mixed up||Task list is limited to just what you need to do to not get fired or divorced. Separate wish list (someday/maybe) for things you’d like to do one day. You can have hundreds of these lists in Evernote – books, movies, places, bucket lists, weekend getaways, gifts, etc.|
|Back to back meetings||Meetings spaced out so you have 10 minutes after each to do the quick follow-up necessary|
|No or overly verbose meeting notes||Write down 3-5 most salient points of the meeting (in Evernote)Jot down next actions.|
|Rush to wrap up meetings||Start ending the meetings 5-10 mins before scheduled end to handle last-min questions, agree on next actions, etc.|
|Default to 1h meetings with too many people & vague agenda||Default to 30 min meetings; Only whoever is necessary to make a decision; Clear on what’s actionable, tangible objective of the meeting?|
|Using the mouse||Using keyboard shortcuts|
|Sorting emails into folders||Archiving and learning how to use search|