Productivity Hack: The Empty Inbox Method - Utilizing a Project Management System to Maintain an Empty Email Inbox

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There are few things in our work-life more stressful than constantly facing a jam-packed email inbox. Email clutter is the sort of nagging stress that works on our psyche like a computer virus, eroding our resources to deal with the important issues in our work. At KFA we have a pretty savvy system for eliminating this stress we’d like to share with you.

In today's fast-paced digital era, managing our email inboxes has become increasingly challenging. The constant influx of messages can easily overwhelm us, leading to missed opportunities, reduced productivity, and increased stress levels. However, by incorporating a project management system into your email management strategy, you can harness its efficiency and organization to maintain an empty inbox.

My productivity strategy is very simple. I start each day by doing three things. First, I scan my calendar to see what I have hard-scheduled for the day. Second, I make a quick pass through my email inbox, eliminating the low-hanging fruit (responding to emails that only require a short reply), forwarding everything else that requires an action on my part to my project management system, and archiving/filing everything in its place, leaving my inbox empty. Then, I go to my project management system to see what I actually need to be working on.

1. Choose a project management system:

For this approach to work, having a project management system is crucial. Some popular options include Asana, Trello, or Microsoft Planner. At KFA, we have used Asana for years and can’t recommend it strongly enough.

2. Get Organized

Implement a uniform filing system across every technology platform you use. Create archive folders or labels in your email account that match the project titles in your project management system and ensure your document storage folders, whether it is the file folders on your local computer or a file sharing system like DropBox, Drive or SharePoint, are also aligned to your file logic.

3. Create projects and tasks:

To translate your email messages into actionable tasks, break them down into projects and individual tasks within your project management system. Each email can be mapped to a specific project, ensuring that important information is easily accessible and organized. For example, create a project for each grant you’re working on and assign relevant tasks accordingly.

4. Set deadlines and reminders:

Assign deadlines and reminders to each task within your project management system to ensure timely completion. This way, you can prioritize your tasks and address urgent emails efficiently.

5. Delegate tasks:

If certain emails require input or action from others, delegate the tasks within your project management system. This reduces the need for excessive back-and-forth communication via email and allows you to track progress seamlessly. Utilize features like task assignment and progress tracking to ensure smooth collaboration.

6. Utilize labels, tags, or categories:

Most project management systems offer labeling, tagging, or categorization capabilities. Leverage these features to organize and categorize your tasks, mirroring the folders or labels in your email inbox. This will help you locate specific tasks easily, enhancing productivity and reducing the time spent searching for relevant information.

7. Archive emails:

Once you have transformed an email into a task within your project management system, archive it. Do not delete important emails. Instead, at the completion of a project, such as the submission of a grant, export the archive file of emails to your document storage system. This will retain important documentation and conserve email storage space.

8. Regularly review and update:

Schedule regular reviews of your project management system to stay on top of your tasks. This allows you to update the status, reassign tasks, or adjust deadlines as needed. Take advantage of notifications and calendar integrations offered by most project management systems to ensure you don't miss important deadlines. We set recurring tasks to review each project in our project management system at regular intervals until the project is complete.

9. Implement email filters and rules:

To further streamline your email management, use email filters and rules to automatically categorize and sort incoming messages. For instance, you can set filters to automatically label emails from certain senders, newsletters, or promotional offers. This helps to prioritize and organize your inbox while reducing distractions.

Effectively using a project management system can revolutionize the way you maintain an empty email inbox. By leveraging features such as project creation, task management, delegation, and categorization, you can transform your emails into actionable tasks while ensuring a clutter-free inbox. Remember to set deadlines, utilize labels or tags, and regularly review your tasks to stay organized and productive. With a project management system as your ally, the days of struggling with an overwhelming inbox will become a thing of the past.

If you find this Productivity Hack helpful, let us know in the comments! We’re considering making a series of these type of hints and tips.

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