Triage: A trick that has saved millions of lives and works wonders for Inbox Zero

Rachel Dotson —  September 8, 2015 — Leave a comment

Bill Liao Email Triage Quote

Post highlights:

  • The key to a powerful flow is to reduce the number of incomplete things in your life.
  • You have a huge level of control over your email if you choose to take hold of it
  • Email is not broken we just use it the wrong way. The trick is triage.
  • It is a mistake to think that by leaving an important email in your inbox you will handle it.

Guest post by Bill Liao, Co-founder of CoderDojo.com and Indie.Bio, Founder of WeForest.org

Motivation is like a well spring, it flows from deep within you and flows strongest when you are in a mindful flow state during your day.

Every incomplete thing in your awareness disturbs your flow which then has the knock on effect of reducing / killing your motivation.

The key then to a powerful flow is to reduce the number of incomplete things in your life.

Most people see external causes for the incomplete things in their lives and thus each new incompletion is doubly disempowering.

Email on the surface looks like the ultimate, uncontrollable, external influence.

The truth is far different. You have a huge level of control over your email if you choose to take hold of it.

I have spent literally years perfecting my email technique and arguably handle more mails from more sources than the vast majority of people in the world.

As a venture capitalist I have an entire portfolio of companies that I am in regular communication with and on top of that I have a geographically dispersed family and three global charities that I work with daily.

I have been practicing Inbox Zero for years now despite the avalanche of daily emails that I handle without anyone else having access to my inbox.


“I just want to share with you a simple trick that has saved millions of lives on the battlefield and which works wonders for Inbox Zero”


The best tool I use is SaneBox and my email system is Gmail and without these two things I would be lost. The good folks at SaneBox tell me that I am one of less than 10 people in the world who handle the email volume I do while maintaining Inbox Zero every night.

I am here to tell you that the secret to motivation and to Inbox Zero is to reduce the clutter and thereby reduce the number of incomplete things in your consciousness and your life.

The beauty of working on your inbox as the first access to decluttering is that in reality you have a huge amount of control over your email and how you use it.

There has been a lot written about how to use email so I am not going to go over much of that ground I just want to share with you a simple trick that has saved millions of lives on the battlefield and which works wonders for Inbox Zero.

Now I mentioned I use Gmail and SaneBox and they are both key to this working. Incidentally I use Gmail for another reason than what I am about to show you. Gmail has a fantastic search system and that means I never ever use folders to manually sort emails I only use automated tags (thanks to SaneBox) and the best Gmail invention ever: Stars!


“I discovered that having an empty inbox is literally an access to mindfulness and flow”


In life there is stuff that you need to handle right away. Stuff that depends on something else before you can handle it and there is stuff you really just do not need to do anything about (even if you might like to).

If you can clear your inbox to zero really fast you free up your consciousness to be able to stay motivated and tackle what needs doing right now. I discovered that having an empty inbox is literally an access to mindfulness and flow.

Email is not broken we just use it the wrong way because we fail to distinguish between the three types of emails and so we end up with an every increasing pile of badly sorted emails in our inboxes and our lives and minds get similarly cluttered.

The trick is triage. Yes literally treat each incoming email as if a wounded soldier on the battlefield. You cannot allow them to accumulate, they must be dealt with.

Those responsible for the removal of the wounded from a battlefield or their care afterwards divide the wounded into three categories:

  1. Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
  2. Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
  3. Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.

So too with email you need to ruthlessly sort each new email into one of three categories:

DO – Those emails to which you can make an immediate difference to with an immediate reply you must answer then and there then instantly archive. These are the most satisfying email and often the urgent ones. They include emails that you might delegate to another to solve or that might require a reply at a specific future time. Here SaneBox is invaluable because it allows you to send an email into the future and it also allows you to cc yourself in the future when you delegate.

ARCHIVE – Those emails that SaneBox has let slip through that are actually not going to require any further attention are the next best because you can just train SaneBox to filter them out in future as they were dead air anyway and do not really require your attention other than to archive them instead of letting them clutter your inbox and your life.

STAR – There are a rare few emails that require you to take extended time to process. These are the ones that take the most care. Where you must read and understand a large attachment and or where you must make a careful and nuanced and or well researched reply. These are the super important emails, the ones that make a real difference. Star them in Gmail and archive them immediately.

That is your triage done!

Hang on a minute, didn’t I just say that the Starred ones are the most important emails? Yep! Then why get them out of the inbox straight away?

The answer is that when you do your triage you do not have time to handle the really important emails. Simply put you must wait until you can block out the time you need to really engage with these emails. I make 1 to 2 hours available at the end of my day to do these and also an hour in the mornings. I wrote this text you are reading in such a time when I can focus and make it useful. It is a mistake to think that by leaving such an important email in your inbox you will handle it. actually what will happen is that it will get buried in new emails and you will regret it instead.

No the important emails must be starred and a special inbox setup in gmail just for them so you can see them separately and know exactly how many important things you have to handle at any given time on any given day.

You see I learned over many painful years that there are a small number of super important emails and that getting them right is one of the keys to success and motivation. Finding those emails and handling them right are what your triage is for. Just remember one last rule—never let your starred emails get over 38 because after that they get so uncomfortable that you lose your motivation and they will never get done…

So there you have it. Email triage and Stars are you own personal gateway to motivational mindfulness talk about turning lemons into lemonade! 🙂

About SaneBox

SaneBox is an easy-to-use inbox tool that makes your email manageable again. How? It prioritizes important emails and summarizes the rest. Start today for free »

Inbox Zero With SaneBox

Rachel Dotson

Posts

Michigander turned Angeleno. Teach For America alum turned startup marketer. I spend my days at SaneBox, saving the world from email woes one interruption at a time.

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