Mark Hurst on Email Productivity (ETech 2006)

Mark Hurst, the creator of and ThisIsBroken is speaking on Bit Literacy: A Strategy for Productivity in Your Bit-Drenched Life. Here's what bit literacy means.

Mark goes specifically to email to bring the conversation down to nuts and bolts. Mark recommends a rule of getting your inbox count to zero at least once every business day. Here's the method:

  1. Find the very most important email in the inbox. Mark believes these are personal emails from family and friends. Spend time reading them and processing them (reply, print, file) and then delete them.
  2. Go to the least important messages in the inbox. These are FYIs, large mailing lists, alerts, etc. You get one shot to read them and then delete them. If you're not going to read it right now, delete it. The chances you'll come back to it are very low.
  3. The remaining things in the inbox should be action items. Anything that can be done in less than a few minutes, do it right now and then delete them. Don't do anything but deal with them.
  4. What's left are the hairy, meaty todos. You can't leave these in the inbox. What to do? move them to a proper todo list and then delete them from the inbox (or refile)

Your inbox in now empty. You get a message count of zero. That's the magic number--make sure it gets to zero. You have to experience it to understand the emotion of getting the inbox empty.

So, moving to the issue of a "proper todo list." Mark mentions TaDa lists and as good list makers, but not proper todo lists. Mark has developed GooToDo as an online todo list that meets his definition of a proper todo list. What defines a proper todo list? You have to be able to move todos from the email box to the todo list easily. GooToDo allows you to forward emails from your inbox to the todo list. The subject line becomes the summary view and the body becomes the detail. Another issue is that you have to be able to filter the future. Proper todo lists should only show you want you have to do today. Lastly, you should have one list and one list only.