Using the 2 minute Rule to achieve Inbox Zero


In my earlier post (Treating your Email Inbox like the Doormat) I mentioned the 2 minute rule. Now the 2 minute rule is not something new. It is also something that has been well documented elsewhere, and yet I started my new year with a number of resolutions. One of these is that I want to attack my email inbox once more, and conquer it once and for all. By doing so toensure that I am more responsive to the people who email me. Having many emails in your inbox is just not going to help me. So this week I thought I would start with the Inbox Spring Clean.

It is for these reasons that I thought it was worthy to mention the 2 minute rule in this posting. I used it and was reminded once again how simple and yet how effective it is. 
First things first, and I unsubscribed to a few more HTML emails. In my renewed effort to become more productive during this year I won’t have the time to read them anyway. If I do or I find that I am missing these emails then I will subscribe to them again in a few months’ time. Something tells me already that I won’t miss them. So next is the email inbox 2 minute rule. What is it? 
The email inbox is for incoming emails. So let’s follow one of these through its life-cycle. 
You get a new email and you quickly skim read it. You will then have to take one of four options (in order):
1. Can I delete it?
Maybe someone sent you a quick email to let you know of some interesting information. You will not need to action it nor do you feel that you need to keep it. So delete it.
Another reason is simply because the email has no value in the first place so delete that one also. 

2. Two Minute Rule

Ok, so we have decided that the email is not for deletion and requires us to respond. The next question we should ask ourselves is whether we can action the email within 2 minutes. Maybe I received that email from the Sales Director asking for a copy of that quarterly sales report. This is easily actioned within the 2 minute period and so just do it and do it then. If you close the email with the intension that you will return to it later then you will only end up re-opening the email and re-reading the email yet again. You won’t have the time for this later and so it is far better to action it now. Doing so will not only clear your inbox out but also the recipient will appreciate the quick response. We have sent the sales report and now we can delete the original email. 
One thing I am not saying is to sit there watching your inbox all the time just so that you can pounce on that new email and respond within the 2 minutes. Instead you need to designate certain times to check your email such as twice or three times a day. Rather this is all about not allowing any email to linger. 

3. “@ TO ACTION” folder
Let’s say that the Sales Director is not only asking for the sales report but also wants me to think about possible ideas/strategies to improve revenue for product X. I could still send him the report and perhaps comment that I will come back to him with my thoughts at a later stage. Now these strategies are clearly not going to take a couple of minutes. Instead I need to think about this and then put a coherent response together. 
At this point you would move it out of your inbox and into a separate folder. There are different ways of doing this depending on the email client you are using. For me, I named that folder “to action” and put a “@” in front so to easily recognise it by standing out from my other archive folders. This folder then will contain the email that I need to respond to but for which more focused time is required. 
When returning to this folder later, I could batch some similar emails together, so to make better use of my time. For some of these emails I may also want to assign some dedicated time to it in my calendar. Once I have replied it then comes out of this folder and it is either deleted or archived. The key thing here though is again to get it out of your inbox. 

4. “@ WAITING FOR” folder
Another option may be that it is an email requiring a response but for which I need someone else’s input first. Alternatively I may decide to delegate the task to someone in my team. Either way I fire of a quick email to that person to ask them for their input, and then I move the original email to a folder called “@ waiting for”. This allows me then quickly check the folder on a regular basis, quickly seeing which emails have been delegated, and so which I need to chase up. Again it is out of my inbox at this point and so keeps me focused on new and unprocessed emails.
There are too many times when we become enslaved to our inbox. We find ourselves constantly checking for new emails, and yet we wonder why we did not get everything done during the day. We also wonder why our ideas generator seems to be running in a lower gear. In all of this you do not want to leave a read email. Instead be decisive and make one of the snap four decisions described above. Most people know about this or a slightly alternative system but it also can lose its effectiveness. I am a few days into my renewed effort in conquering those inboxes and yet I have been reminded again how effective these simple rules are.
With a little discipline I am finding an empty inbox at the end of my designated “check email” times. You leave the inbox empty which gives you the sense of having achieved something, and secondly I then have a clear mind to focus on my To Do or Project list.
Sometimes we just need to be reminded of the obvious. 

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