Inbox Zero

Uploaded by GoogleTechTalks on 08.10.2007

>> Hello. Okay. Just a quick note, if you can't find seats here there is an overspill
room for this one. Its tunist, I believe, is the overspill here on campus. So if you,
if you need somewhere else to watch this from that's the place. When it comes to superheroes,
I've always been more of a Spiderman than a Superman fan personally, and I'll come back
to that reference in a minute. Today it's my great pleasure to introduce Merlin Mann
who I've read and followed for many years. He's the creator of 43 Folders website. Also
slightly less well known but very good is his Five's website. That's--that's a really
good one if you haven't checked that out, and his got a number of other projects including
MacBreak. MacBreak weekly, regular on the Twit, pod casting network and so forth. So,
I mentioned Spiderman. Merlin's a lot like Spiderman to me. Spiderman is the scan of
really cool superhero with all these powers. But occasionally he swings into buildings,
so has to wash his own underwear. And to me that makes that character much more accessible.
And when it comes to getting things done, I feel the same way about Merlin's advice.
He swings into the occasional building or, you know, occasionally deals with the day-to-day
issues of washing your own underwear. And to me, that advice just makes a lot more sense.
So, with that said, Merlin Mann. >> MANN: Thank you very much. I can deal with
this guy here. Can you guys--can you hear me okay?
>> Oh yeah I'll take that. >> MANN: A thing is if I work at Google, I've
had other people that could wash my underwear for me, so three, four. You guys get laundry,
I don't know if you know. Maybe it's just some of the people that have been here for
awhile. >> [INDISTINCT] so.
>> MANN: Yeah? They don't pick it up for you? Yeah. Dry cleaning them, don't do that. Yeah.
I've--I was bragging my friend about this the other day, "Oh God, you won't replace
it. You're so infantilized, they do laundry for you." He goes, "Yeah, but I pay for it."
I went, "Yeah. Okay, well." Still, it's pretty good. Thanks a lot for having me today. I'm
going to talk about email, and something that I call Inbox Zero based on a series of articles
that I wrote for 43 Folders awhile back, a year or two ago. And has a lot of to do with
my own struggles over the years to deal with high volumes of email. 1993, I got my first
email account. It's a Pine account on the Calahase free net. This is a wonderful thing,
you get a free internet account, you got a shell account. Anybody in town can get it.
Look at the Simpsons on go for holes till two in the morning. It was amazing. And it
blew my mind. I mean, I used Microsoft mail before, I had never had internet email and
it was astonishing. I new probably, maybe a dozen people that have email addresses,
most of people who were in like grad school. I had a friend who was going to Oxford, I
could email this guy, I could write him a letter. It would get there immediately and
then he'd write me back. I mean, I know a lot of you are younger than me, but this was
astonishing. This was mind blowing. I mean the sense of like connecting with people.
People you hadn't seen forever, you found out that he got an email address, and I'll
send your emailing. Its email, you've got to have the email. It was fantastic, it was
unbelievable. And every little email I wrote was like a special little letter. It was like
I was getting a little hug from somebody. You know, I was returning it with a little
hug. A dozen people in a little network. International network of hugs, and it felt so awesome. And
really, it kind of stayed that way for like, probably, almost two years. It liked remained
astonishing to me that I had email. It's still kind of freaks me out a little. It didn't
always stay that way. Eventually, more than a dozen people found out what my email address
was. I suspect people, more than that know yours as well. And somewhere along the way,
email went from being kind of this funny hip thing that you did with your geek friends,
into being the lingua franca for how you dealt with your entire life. And it became kind
of the one source for all incoming and outgoing information. And it started to get a lot harder.
And all of a sudden, the messages become a little bit a less like careful letters and
became more like, I don't know, like an avalanche falling on your head every morning. And it
became a lot less fun, and it became a lot less about a network of hugs and that made
me sad. In 1993, I didn't need a system for doing email. The system was, I logged in and
I tried to remember the commands for doing things in Pine and I got my email, and that
was all there was to it. To have a system for doing email with a dozen people in a network
seems kind of crazy and anal, why would I need that. And yet today, I feel like the
only way we're going to succeed at a job with the most important soft skills you can have
is figuring out how to deal with the high volume of email. And the only way that you're
going to do that is to do build up with some kind of a system in place that's going to
be simple and repeatable and has allow--going to allow you to have an actual life outside
of email. It actually can happen, believe it or not. I think this does have to be a
very simple system, it has to be a relatively complete framework that regardless of who
the message is from or what kind of content type it is, you know how to deal with everything
that comes into your world. You're reducing the number of possible options for what something
could be and turning it into a relatively small number of verbs for what you can actually
do with any of this stuff. I think one of the most important things an email system
can do is to build walls where they don't yet exist. A lot of people right now are for
practical purposes living in their inbox. They leave their email open all day long,
it's auto checking throughout the day. Little blips come up about every minute, and email
becomes the nexus for everything they do with work. They use it as a to-do list manager;
they use it as a calendar. I'm not talking about outlook, I'm talking about people who
like literally scroll through their inbox to decide what meetings they have to go through
the day. To quote Walter Sobchak, "You're entering a world of pain". That is--that is
not a way to live, that's not a system. That's crazy. Thus edges are so important. Because
you guys are knowledge workers, which is a fancy way of saying "you add value to information".
And if you're a knowledge worker, the two most precious natural resources you've got
are your time and your attention. They're both finite and they're both irreplaceable.
There's no way you're ever going to add a couple hours to the day, and as much as you
emax people, probably you think it's possible; you can't actually do 17 things at one time.
Multitasking, in my experience, tends to be something of a myth. Where you decide to put
your time and attention says a lot about who you are. It says a lot about you as a human
being. You have some idea in your head of stuff that's high priority to you, right?
All the stuff that really matters. If I sat down and like ask you, you know, what's really
important to you? You go,"Oh my family and my church group and I'm a deacon." But then
I go and I look in your email box, and your news feeds, and your web browser, if I win
and I got all CSI on that, like, what with the last two weeks of your electronic life
say about how it maps to the stuff that you claim is really important? Maybe really well,
in which case you should leave. But if you're like me and you struggle with that, you need
to have these walls and you need to find ways to honor where your time and attention go.
And there's probably no better way to have your time burgled than by not having a healthy
relationship with your email and not having a sense of--of where stuff belongs. As much
as your time and your attention are finite, the demands on your time and attention are
infinite. There's no end to how much people can ask of your time and your attention. You're
ultimately the one who's going to have to make decisions about how your attention and
your time map to the things that you actually do the actions in your life. There's a really
a good writer and developer named Joel Spolsky, you probably know him from Joel on Software.
And he uses an example that I like a lot that I'm going to steal. He says that whether you're
developing software or what have you, it's good to think about the amount of available
time and effort as representing a box, and that's a box that got a certain number of
cubic inches available in it and you can put whatever you want into it. But every kind
of task that you want to add to that box is basically like a little block. Big task are
big blocks and little task, a little blocks. But no matter how you cut them up, they're
still only so many cubic inches in the box. The fact of the matter is that it's all about
opportunity cost. Every time you put a crap block in your box, it means a really cool
block doesn't get to go in there. And as much as we sometimes feel like we're beholden to
bosses and teams, we're ultimately the traffic cop for this kind of stuff. So one idea behind--this
is, you know, obviously kind of a more general point, but I think it really keys to the idea
of Inbox Zero because it's a way of saying that ultimately you want not have to worry
about taking stupid blocks out of the box. It's better to make sure they never get in
there in the first place, and that requires a very kind of proactive approach to managing
the action in your life. And that's really what this is all about. If you're managing
actions, you're ensuring that your time and attention are always mapping to the stuff
that you claim is important. And as heretical as this might sound, it also means you could
spend less time doing email and discover that there are things outside the world of email
that are also your job and your life. It's true, I promise. Inbox Zero has a lot of prior
arc. In particular, I'm taking a lot of these ideas from David Allen's book "Getting Things
Done". A lot of other stuff--show hands, "Getting Things Done" people, anybody read it--read
it, you know? In particular, a lot of the ideas around processing, if you are familiar
with TTD, it's going to have a lot to do with this. David Allen has a phrase that he uses
in Getting Things Done that I like a lot. He calls Getting Things Done "advanced common
sense." And I think it's exactly what a lot of this stuff is. The stuff that I'm going
to talk to you about today could not be anymore obvious. The trouble is we don't always do
the obvious things and so putting them into some kind of framework that you can get your
head around, can be a great way to keep things on the rails. So the idea behind Inbox Zero.
First of all, we admit to ourselves that email is really nothing more than a medium. It is
a center--Steven might say it's a tube. It gets things from one place to another. And
I think that's really critically important. There's no need for you to live in email.
There's no need for you to be there. That's not where the action is, right? Emails? Swell,
it's great for getting stuff around, but you don't want to be focusing exclusively on the
email itself to the exclusion of the other things that are in the email that need to
be deliberated into other places. Like appointments, and tasks, and reference materials. I really
believe there's a single place for anything. That's going to differ for each one of us.
We're all going to have our own idea about what that right place is, but once you know
where stuff goes, it's get a lot easier to figure out where to put it. And having an
idea in your head about where stuff needs to land and where it could potentially live
forever, that's your job to figure out. The single practice that I think could really
change your life starting today is to process to zero. Process to zero every time you check
your email. You never check your email without processing which I know, sounds, again, heretical.
But a lot of people get really good at checking email and they don't always get so good at
doing anything about it. So we're going to show you how to do processing. But you're
never going to have an over full inbox if you can get out of the habit of allowing that
stuff to kind of stack up in the first place, and that begins with processing every time
you check. And finally, it's an action based system kids. This is all about converting
stuff into action, even if that action means deleting the email. It's about deciding in
the moment what you need to do about it and then moving on. Processing is probably the
most important piece of that in terms of how this is going to be affecting you from--from
day-to-day. I think one of the--one of the problems is that a lot people, especially
kind of the Blackberry kids, think that checking is enough. "I'm going to check my email. Got
to go. Check my email." Well, you know, you checked something and theoretically you're
doing that because of what? Because there's a fire in there that might be coming up? Okay,
well you checked it, there's no fire but there's also five other emails that you haven't done
anything with. Well, you know, checking brings with it a certain amount of responsibility.
If you're checking on your friend's cat while they're out of town, it's incumbent upon you
to tell them if anything goes wrong with the cat. You check it on Monday and the cat's
fine. Check out on Tuesday, the cat's fine. Check it on Wednesday, it's spontaneously
combusted. You don't just come back on Thursday and hope that it got better, you've checked
on the cat and there's a problem and now you deal with it. Don't let your Blackberry turn
into exploding cats. That's--that's not a good thing. But, you know, at the same time
the good news is, it means less than responding, right? There's more than checking, less than
responding. Responding is one possible outcome of processing, but it's not the only one.
That's 1993 talking. Every time you think every email you get needs a response. I know
less of you probably are in that place, but somewhere, search your mind and see if there's
maybe some little corner that still thinks, "Oh man, I got to respond to 200 emails,"
and you don't. You got to process 200 emails, which is so different. At the end of the day,
processing means that you're going to look at every single piece of email in your inbox
and decide what it means to you, where does this go? Or to make our point, what actions
do I have to take as a result of this email? Think of yourself as like a minor, you're
an information minor, an action minor. There's little veins of gold and probably fool's gold
in some cases in your email. And it's your job to figure out what that is, and that's
kind of what the processing is all about. I have this idea that a--if you work in a
Deli and you're behind the counter, people keep bringing you orders, orders, orders.
A lot of people I know would think "Hmm, these orders are really interesting. I should check
to see if they have any orders. Hmm, yeah, five more orders. Okay. Get any orders? Oh,
yeah come orders." What are hush and hush organize these? Should I--alphabetical or
maybe numerical? No, you're making sandwiches, you're not stacking. The whole point of this
is to go make a damn sandwich, you know? If you decide around all day try to figure out,
are there any new orders? That's not the point. Focus on putting out the sandwiches and don't
worry so much about the orders. Once you've mined the gold out of your email, it's a dead
skeletal husk and you can throw it away. When you're processing, the idea is to liberate
all of that stuff and be done and throwing the husk away as quickly as possible. Don't--don't
cling in this, like sad, like Buddhist way to your--to your email in this like weird
CYA, you know, anxiety fast. You just, you know, move it on, get it out of the way. As
quickly as you can, get it off your plate. And the way we're going to do this is through
a limited number of options from which you can do with a given email. This is my system.
This is what works for me, okay? So you're end number here might be different. But from
the way I do this, there's five potential things that can happen to any email. Five
and only five verbs that tell me everything I can do with an email. Why is this a good
thing? Well, like right now, just think to yourself, imagine your inbox, is there any
email in your inbox right now that you've read but you haven't done anything about?
Maybe a couple--couple of you. Chances are, because you don't--you haven't really thought
about what the possible verbs are. And it's weirdly comforting once you know what those
verbs are for yourself, in your own little system, it could be--it could be really comforting
to be able to just blow through that stuff. Oh gosh, you should delete so much of your
email. It's just unbelievable how much email you can delete or archive. You know, kind
of roughly--I'm going to use my laser pointer. These are kind of roughly, in the order of
desirability just for the way I think about this stuff, but if I can delete an email,
boy, I'm for damn sure going to delete it. I'm going to get it out of there. The default
state of your inbox should probably not be keep sitting here until I start weeping. That's
not a good approach. If you find yourself with the little scroll, we all go and up and
down while tears run down your face like something's--something's not working. And so, can you delete it? Okay,
delete it. That's great. Is this something where this would really be better for somebody
else to do? You can delegate it to somebody else. That could be delegated horizontally
or vertically, it just means somebody else is going to work on it. And if it's a new
email that you can respond to very quickly, just blow out a one, two, three line response
in one or two minutes, keep moving, keep the ball in motion. It might be something that
you want to defer. This can be a tricky one but if it's something where you need to respond
to this but it's going to take a little bit of outside work, it's still primarily an email
based task, you might want to kind of put that aside to do for later on. And if finally,
its something you can do, go do it now and be done with it, right? Advanced common sense.
Yes, I will give you that. But if you can find out what your little verbs are and then
make sure that you're always doing them, you're never going to have that stuff stacking up
in your inbox again because you know there's only so many outcomes and it's just a matter
of you, as quickly as possible, determining which one of those outcomes it is and then
dispensing as quickly as you can. Let's talk about each in just a little bit more detail.
I include archiving and deleting and I'll explain why in a minute. But obviously, you
know, if it's--if it's, you know, I don't, urban myths from your aunt, if it's Viagra
adds or whatnot, you know to junk that. But, I mean, there's a lot of stuff that you get
that you can also junk. Once you get really good and fast at this stuff, it's going to
blow your mind how much of your email you throw away once you kind of lose the fear.
But anything that doesn't have any place in your life and never will, get rid off. That's
said, if there is stuff that you will need in the future, archive it. And what is archiving?
Archiving, for me, is a single folder. It's a single folder called archive. It does not
24 folders, friend. It's not--it's not coming up with the most crazy Byzantine taxonomically
complete system that you could think of. Let's be honest. For those of you who do have the
24 folder Byzantine system, when is the last time you used it to actually find anything?
Maybe you do. Maybe you use it all the time. User or win a price. But for most of you,
I've seen you. You sit there and you go, "Wow! Is this--is this going to be definitely 2007
July blog relate--is a blog related or CMS? Really it's more like my ruby ultimate golf
group. Really it should go here, but I'll tag it and duplicate it." Dude it's the modern
age. You got the freaking Gmail search for it. Flag it if you need to flag it and put
it into a folder, that's great. But ask yourself--and I will give--I will grant you, some of you
need this structure because you're crazy. But if--if--but be honest with yourself, what
is the payoff? Are you getting for the amount of time that you--I'm on a Mac, I grab an
email and I start dragging it. I have to start thinking now, where does this go? For an email
that I'm going to archive, I have to think about where it goes. I'm not a librarian.
I have a blog. Like it all goes into archive. Ask yourself, what is the minimally Byzantine
system that you can tolerate that will still allow you to find stuff later on? Does not
need to be taxonomically satisfying, it needs to be easy to find. There's a really big difference.
But delete whatever you can and just try to keep it simple. Delegating is kind of a no-brainer.
As--as you're forwarding it, usually to somebody, and you're saying, "Hey, I think--can you
give--can you give this person this information," or what have you. The only addition I would
add to that, there's another action associated with that, especially if you do GTD which
is the idea of having a follow-up. So, if you want to be proactive about this stuff,
I've used that twice so I need to put a dollar in the jar now. If you want to be proactive
about this, you want to drill down that net and open the kimono. Seriously, [INDISTINCT],
if you want to--if you're going to delegate to somebody, it's a good idea to give yourself
a little tickler and say, "Okay, in two weeks give yourself a reminder to make sure it happen."
Everybody's got a different way to handle this. I have a--in my--in my--I use omni focus,
is a program I use, and I have a little context in there called "Waiting On" where I could
watch stuff. [INDISTINCT] I put things on the calendar. But I think it's a good idea
that whenever you can start getting in this mind set of converting things into actions.
If not, always just someone else's job, and then just kind of get out of the way as quick
as you can. Quick responses. I'm guessing this is probably a huge amount of what you
get. I know you kids are on a lot of email list, you get a lot of stuff to the day you're
participating in, learn to--to blow out a really fast, like one or two line reply, is
such a ninja move. There's a website that started, in the last week or two, called five
sentences. I don't know if you guys have seen this. There's five sentences, four sentences,
three sentences and two sentences. And there--there are Spanish sites, so they end in dot ES,
five sentences. And it's kind of funny. And it's--it's a way of saying to people, "I have
undertaken it. That from now on, no email I'll ever write will be longer than five sentences."
And so you put in your [INDISTINCT] or your emails and people know that you're not being
terse, you're being efficient--maybe you're being terse. Maybe you're from New England,
you're just nationally taciturn. But get it out as quick as you can. And--and, you know,
I think if you can--I think there's this, I don't know, I want to come up with some
kind of fancy computer term for this, but there's got to be some phrase for like the
disproportion it weigh that--how many times have you gotten something, usually from over
your pay grade, or somebody sends you a one line email that represents some month of work
for you? There's a terribly disproportion of thing going on in email. And the same thing
happens when somebody writes you a 25 paragraph email. Do you feel like you've got to write
them back a 25? I struggle with this. I get a lot of email from really nice people and
I--there's no way I could ever write that much. So you've got to find your comfort zone
with this stuff, but being able to respond quickly and just kind of keep the ball in
motion. Keeping the ball in motion is very important. If you don't have enough information
to respond to this right now, ask a question. Just keep things moving and get it out of
your inbox. This one's thorny, but it's important and this is the idea of deferring. If you're
doing a quick check-in on your email and you're processing, there maybe something's that you
don't want to deal with right now but you will want to deal with later. If there's stuff
where you're going to need extra information before you can respond, you might want to
put that in that. Personally, I put this into a "to respond" folder and then throughout
the day I go down and try to window that down, so that I'm kind of, hopefully trying to empty
that by the end of everyday, don't always do it. But the idea is that you're inbox really
kind of should be for stuff you haven't read yet. And then that, again, that's common sense.
But there's a lot of you, probably, a few of you who have email and then it's read you're
not doing anything with. Well, you know, if you need--figure out what you need to get
rid of it, and then do that and get it out of the way. And then finally, if there's something
that you can do, this is so important. Do it or capture a place holder for that action
of doing it. So what does that mean? If there is something I could do right now, if I can
just go walk a folder down two cubes, go do it, you're done with it, email is finished.
But if it's something you can't do now, or shouldn't do now or won't do now, what if
it's a meeting in the future? Put it on your calendar. You would be amazed how many people
decide what they're going to do today by looking at their inbox. Their inbox means this hasn't
blown up yet. It means these are things I still bad--feel bad enough about that I haven't
put them in my trashcan. As much as possible, liberate activity out of your inbox. I just
cannot put this strongly enough. Keep a separate list for tasks, it doesn't matter whether--what
you're using. You guys don't have a task tab yet, you need that. But you could use, you
know, whatever. You could use "remember the milk", you could use a Google docs, a diced
text files to remember a lot of this stuff. But don't live out of your inbox and don't
use it as a to-do list because that will make you crazy. I just--I feel so strongly about
this. There's one and only one thing you can do with each one of this, but the thing you
don't do is just let it sit around without a reason because that's when the procrastination
starts. And as soon as you see, I don't know if you guys have ever dealt with clutter in
your life, but it happens with clutter in their home, too. Where like one area you put
down a jacket and then pretty soon there's a pair of pants on it, and then there's hook
number four and there's some quarter wood and like, pretty soon that area is completely
gone. The same as true here. If you keep your inbox tidy, you're going to respect it more.
And in a certain way that really says that you're respecting your time and attention
and saying that "I, as much as I load email, it's important enough to me that I take it
a little bit more seriously." So one and only one. So like I say, last time I say this,
this may not be your trip. Like you're going to have to figure out what your--I [INDISTINCT]
are actually pretty sound. I think 80% of the DNA for most email systems is probably
somewhere in here. But you need to figure this out for yourself. You have your own work
flow. You got your own life. You got your own weird peculiar habits you picked in college,
honor that with my blessing. I think one of the most frustrating things about the life
hacking movement one of the things I find most relaxing is the explicit idea that acquiring
a system is all you need to take care of a problem. To me this is really not so much
more sophisticated than thinking that you're going to be more organized because you got
a PDA. Ultimately whatever system I think I happen to think the Inbox Zero system is
very, I think it's pretty intuitive and easy to follow but it's meaningless if you don't
put it in place a whole heart of life hacking comes down to one idea in my mind. I see idea
there's a really smart part of your brain there's really dumb part of your brain and
if you always let the smart part of your brain think that it's really smart and don't do
anything to help the dumb part you're going to, you're going to be in a world of pain.
To make the synaptic leap between the dumb part and the smart part is what a life hack
is all about and that's what really what this is. I haven't shown you anything here that
you don't already know how to deal but if you actually do it you're going to see extraordinary
differences. The way that you have to make this happen is you've got, you've got to make
it a habit you've got to have it be something that you do repeatedly otherwise there's really
not much worth to it at all and I think one of those healthy habits in the long run is
that processing ironically processing on a regular as in repeating basis use it time
to get out of email and go have a life somewhere else. So just to kind of put some of these
tips into perspective and to give you some ways to help this stick a couple quick tips.
I think it's really important to do email less and by that I mean don't leave email
open, do not leave auto check on I know this sounds crazy consider turning off your email
application sometimes and working on other stuff. If you're in customer service you can't
do that, if you're in a Korean Missile sylow you can't do that. If you're the one who,
who feeds and grooms the page rank you probably can't do that but if you're like a normal
person who has a job there's a pretty good chance that you could shut your email off
sometimes and let it accumulate for awhile while you go at work. Have you ever had this
happen you go on vacation and you come back and you get this 700 emails or whatever and
it's I'm always dog smack by how incredibly stupid most of my email is but it seems really
important if I got a reminder after a minute you know. If you leave those--if you leave
I think mail that out if you leave it in it's default state will remind you of new mail
every minute. That's 2400 interruptions a week so it's worth figuring out how many of
those interruptions you can really tolerate given how important the news that we're having
Sally's birthday at TGI Friday's is to you at a given time. I really feel like you wanted
to schedule email dashes my suggestion to you is that you try to check your email once
per hour and then an hour go and check your email for ten straight minutes, process it
to zero respond what you can, close it up and get back to work. Maybe that will work
for you, maybe if you do this every 20 minutes trying to keep yourself on a some kind of
schedule we're--you're looking periodically enough that you're not going to lose your
mind or have your boss thinks you're you know smoking weed under the desk but as much as
you can try to shut off and get away from that. One thing that you'll immediately notice
is that a lot of stuffs seems less like a fire than it did when it was coming in all
the time. And while we're at it get off for pay sit, get off for news feeds. If you haven't
new that to check a little bit less often go pass through a pass twice a day you'll
enjoy it more and you'll get a lot more done. It is totally okay to cheat. The first cheat
that is awesome it still turning if there's any stuff that's coming in I'm sure you guys
are already doing above the list and stuff that you're on but if there's stuff that's
low level high noise not important I don't need to know this now stuff. Filter it in
such a way that goes into a folder as being red keep yourself for a minor to go check
it ones a day or ones a week or however often you need to check it but there's no need to
be notified of, of noisy stuff and there's an only you can filter that stuff out which
what, what can't you filter you can't filter stuff that requires your brain to be engage
on, on going basis. Obviously it's like your primary project your not going to be able
to filter that be careful that you don't over filter which I know gmail will let you do.
It's kind of like if you train spam assassin and it starts like throwing out your mom's
emails you know. You got to be careful about how much of this you try to automate because
you still you need your brain engage with a lot of it. The other one I don't know I
think you kids work on a gmail but I love templates. I would love to see template functionality
in gmail. I currently use an application for mail got out called mail template. It makes
it really easy to create custom templates that you can just respond super fast to email.
If you start thinking in terms of templates you guys are already thinking of templates
in terms of the way you could things right and you reuse libraries and stuff like that
if you discover that 80% of your email comes from the same ten responses consider automating
that with the template especially for stuff outside routine it really speed things up.
>> Can you make a sample of that? >> MANN: Yeah I have a mail template or somebody
God bless and ask me incredibly obvious question about something that's on the site that was
on the first response first return in Google. So I'll go and I'll do the search on Google
and it goes to my clip board and, and then mail template our respond to their email and
I've got a little international some of the phrase to your email but it's got a little
spot where it drops in whether it was on my clipboard. So it says, "Dear Jimmy, hey thanks
a lot for stopping by. I think you found what you're looking for here." And it drops in
the clipboard. It could be FAQs, could be whatever. But it's sort of like, you guys
think about how you, I'll talk out of my butt for a minute, but think of how you refractor
code and how can you reuse bits of stuff, same thing here. If you discover you're answering
the same thing over and over, try to automate it and keep it simple. And--and--and the other
thing is, you know, I know you're like you're whatever, like freaking Walt Whitman and everything.
Every word you write is a dream and you would never think of--of boiler plate, but at least
use it as a jumping off point like consider at least having a little core of a one paragraph
response if it's something you write a lot, saves you a lot of time. And finally, try
not to fiddle. Don't be that guy going up and down in the inbox just all day long sitting
there thinking about where you put stuff. Try to minimize any kind of activity that
does not directly support creating and managing actions. If you're not actually getting that
stuff done, you're not really doing work. You're just playing with email. Have you guys
ever seen the movie Metropolis, the one from the 20s? There's this awesome scene at Metropolis
where this--this ex-German expressionist worker man is hooked up to the--the impossible to
keep up with machine and he has to keep turning the arms on his clock and is completely assonates,
its hilarious, awesome scene. I'm here to tell you, you know, if you don't want to be
doing this whole day long, being hooked up in anything, right? If you're just doing mete
work inside of email, you're not really getting stuff done. And so I think, as much as possible,
it's a good idea to just kind of self [INDISTINCT] and figure out what are the things I need
to do that are going to keep me moving this stuff and let me create--create little email
corpses out of these as quickly as possible. Try to stay with the program, get out of email
as often as you can and then just stay focused on managing action. And let's say periodically
just give yourself a little check. And, you know, remember when you felt guilty 20 minutes
ago when I asked you how your actions track to your--things you say are important? Try
and do that once in a while and really say to yourself "Am I putting my time and my attention
where it should be right now? And is there a way that--that I can have this email become
less noisy for me and generate more actions?" And the irony, in my opinion is, that if you
do this well, it actually becomes a little bit more like 1993 because you spend less
time, less [INDISTINCT] what a junkie don't care about, and a lot more time doing stuff
that really matters to you. And it's pretty good gig. Thanks. I deliberately tried to
keep that short so that I hope we can have a discussion and chat and of question, and
you can tell me where I'm wrong. We've got plenty of time. I'm just going to stand here
until you guys ask the question--ask questions, so. You can ask questions, you can tell me
about what it's like to work at the Google and have a high volume of email, you could
tell me, yes sir? >> So I really like the idea of only checking
your email ones every hour, but I think the problem is that everyone expects me to be
checking it ones every 30 seconds. And how do you--how do you get other people aware
that you want to follow a system different from the system they expect you to do.
>> MANN: Yeah. It's absolutely the number one--you're right on. That's the number one
response anybody would have to that seemingly crazy idea. And the truth is that a lot of
it's going to depend on your teens--well, whoever it is you work with a lot. It's going
to--it's going to have a lot to do with how they think about the stuff and how the person
who's in a position to evaluate you, things about that stuff. But I think you might be
surprised. You guys work in cubes, right? I mean, do you--did you have to renegotiate
everyday how loud to play the music and whether you should need it to Molly? Like you work
it out, right? Don't you kind of figure out, within your own little culture, how that's
going to work? I think one thing you can do is to say to each other--you see this happening
now, everybody talks about like, "Oh, no email Fridays," and stuff like that. Well, I don't
know about that, but I do think that more and more people are--people are having these
conversations to at least say, "Hey, you know, anybody else feeling like our--our news groups
have gotten kind of noisy?" Anybody else kind of feel like, what if we were to say we check
email like one day a week. Lets say we check email when we get in, we do a scrum or whatever
and then we kind of disappear for a couple of hours, who would have a problem with that
and what can we do to work around that? It's really up, you know, I--I don't have--there's
not one answer, but ultimately you're identifying the more basic problem. You would never call
somebody at their house at like 9 o'clock on a Sunday night. Not when I was a kid. It
just wasn't done. But now, because your email is out there, people feel like they have unlimited
access to you. So part of this, I really think, I think we're starting to see the pendulum
swing back as we try and negotiate how much of ourselves we want to be available to people
all the time, and how we maintain our insanity at those times when we need to not be getting
new data, yes sir? >> So addressing that the previous point if
you don't set them at expectation that you will answer probably it's amazing how much
it affects how people try to use the email to get in contact with you. But my second
question is using the inbox as a to-do list; I have a tendency to do that because I don't
have good tools for doing--managing a to-do list outside of email. And what tools are
out there that might actually integrate the to-do list with the scheduling of the time
to do what's on the to-do list. >> MANN: I think you're right on. And, I mean,
I think managing expectations, I learn this a long time ago when I was first a web designer.
Back before, we had interaction designer, we just have web designers. About 20,000 dollars
less. Really, 216 pillars then, it was a different world. I--I learned early on because I always--because
I'm a sad, pathetic person. I always want to please people. It's how I would way over
deliver, way early with clients. And man, when I ever regret it. I think you're absolutely
right. I think people will take you more seriously if you do kind of establish, I mean, part
of it is, like I say, its team culture. I mean, in the same way that people sometimes
say, "Oh, we got to get a Wiki to help communicate better as a team." Or like, "We need a new,
you know our problem is, we need a new CMS." And you're like, "No, you need to figure out
how to talk to each other better." Like [INDISTINCT] CMS, then you got two problems, you know?
I think that's--I think that's a big part of it. To your point about where to put this
stuff, it's my feeling, and again, I'm just--I'm going to come straight at Getting Things Done,
great book. I think the idea of understanding that it's all about managing action, it means
you take it seriously enough that you park actions some place special. One thing it's
important to me, I think is the idea that whatever I accept as an action, whatever goes
on to my list, that could be a text file that could be--could be something like "remember
the milk", it could be to-do list, there's a moderate electronic ways, could be a [INDISTINCT]
skin notebook. But whatever it is you put on that list has a certain kind of almost
magic to it because the act of committing that to your page is your way of saying "this
isn't just a good idea, this is something that I'm going to do". And I think one of
the distinctions about understanding processing has everything to do with task list as well.
The reason to-do don't work is because there's no skin in the game. To-do list are great.
Everybody in here can make a list right now, a great to do list because really, most people
to-do list are about collection, capture, about anxiety. It's about what's--what's top
of mind, right now goes on the list. Retirement, lumps and all those stuff goes on the list,
and now you've--you've made a list. Awesome. You made a list. And the list could include
vacation to Paris, pick up milk, buy diapers and its like, "Whoa, the content types are
crazy here. These are all different sizes and shapes." The only way to make a task list
that really means anything, is kind of try to make those roughly the same shape, and
to make them all kind of, have a certain amount of decisiveness about it. So whatever you
use--you know, I think for most of you, a text file could be all you need. One thing
about geeks, in my experience, is that they don't have a lot of what David Allen calls
context or a lot of different sets of tools and opportunities. You know, at computers
is pretty much it. And so, for a lot of us that could be--that could be a text file.
All I would say is whatever you choose, choose the tool that stops just short of being fun
to use. If it's too fun to use, you're going to fiddle and you're going to be like the
guy with the clock, again. Like, keep it--keep it to where you kind of don't love using it.
Like--and--and where you don't become so concerned with the taxonomy. Every time you start thinking
about taxonomy, go do three tasks, that's all I'm saying. I don't know if that answers
your question. It depends. A lot of people--I think it will be great thing for Google to
make. I could totally see this being in a creative with a Google calendar at some point.
I know none of you are in a position to say. You can't even tell me how your subversion
works, I know. But I think in the future that would be a great thing for Google to add.
Some kind of task management. But, personally, I like something that I can take on a plane.
You know what I mean? I don't--the whole like wired thing is problematic for me. I'm sure
you guys got a solution that's going to get my personal information. But I--I think having--I
think there's nothing wrong with having a sheet of paper. I can't--you would not believe
how many friends of mine, especially friends I know who work here, walk around with a pad
of paper, they write things down and then they cross it off. You got ubiquitous capture,
you know? You know, the battery has run down. I personally carry around a stack of index
cards to write things down. Whatever works for you. Yeah. But having--having the tasks,
the main thing is that there's--it's important to be able to capture them when they're on
your mind and I like to say the time that you remember that you're out of toilet paper
tends not to be when you're at Safeway in the toilet paper aisle. And so, you need a
capture device that's going to be widely available, but then you don't want to have recall at
the point when you can do something about it, so whatever system does that for you--other,
where's the mic, yeah? >> Hi, well, now that you just got done talking
about how great text files and pieces of paper are, I wanted to ask you about your opinion
on the state of GTD apps, you mentioned omni focus which I tried and I didn't really gotten
too involved with--I can't quite figure it out, can you just tell me...
>> MANN: I'll, I'll put that as a bug. >> Thanks, can you just tell me what you think
about them and what's their value? >> MANN: Actually, that's a fantastic question,
he's asking about the state of GTD apps. When I started 43 Folders in 2004, wow, apparently,
I'm 40. There was not much in the way of GTD apps especially for Mac users and I kind of
at the time was very like, there should be GTD applications and now brother, are there
ever GTD applications, so many. I think the failing of a lot, not the failing but the
challenge of GTD is it's if you--I'm sorry I need to go on about this for those of you
who are already sick of GTD which I can understand but part of the beauty of GTD is that it's
such a tool agnostic framework and part of the challenge and the wonder of GTD is that
it's applicable in so many situations. I think one problem with a lot of applications is
that they try too hard to be in all in one GTD application and that it especially tends
to fall down in the review process which is the most critical part of keeping GTD working
on an ongoing basis. Just like your filters for email, it shouldn't try to do the thinking
for you, I would try to avoid any GTD application that tries to do too much thinking for you.
I think you want to be looking for an application--this isn't--this isn't limited to just GTD, it's
true for any task management applications. You want some--where it's easy to capture
in a way that's seamless and doesn't require you to change modes. That I would say that's
important. You need a way to kind of put it in the--the most basic categories that allow
you to contextually have tasks when you can do something about them and you need a way
to afford reviews and they can't do the review for you and I think that's a problem with
some of them. I was talking with--at lunch today actually, about one thing that's neat
about Unix. I mean as little as I really understand about Unix, I do understand the idea of pipes
and I love the idea that tiny applications can do things together and in some cases,
I want the really sharp paring knife. I don't want the goofy Swiss Army knife that came
out of the bubble gum machine. I want the one super freaking, hot, sharp, paring knife
to do this one thing and that's why I think the beauty of this is you can do capture on
paper, right? And you can do task tracking electronically and you can do your reviews
you know on a white board. You know whatever works for you in the way that whatever compensatory
muscles you need to develop to keep your--your brain upright, you can cobble together a system
that will do that for you. >> Merlin, so if you come back from vacation
and you have a big pile... >> How are you?
>> Or you know Monday and there's the medium sized pile, what's your thinking about the
order in which you should process the mail, should it be you know, chronological or should
it be alphabetical? >> MANN: This is one of those VIE max kind
of things because there's--the connection of wisdom is you cherry pick for the stuff
that's highest priority and there's nothing I can say to you that will keep you from doing
that because that's how our brain works and you guys are all smarter than me, I can't
talk you out to that but as much as possible, I think I try to go latest to most recent
in order and I think once you made the--the psychic leap from "I have to respond to all
of these" to "I have to process these," that becomes less painful because once you become
a total ninja at processing and this is where something like mud or something becomes you
know, if you can get key commands for doing these kinds of tasks, it's a hugely helpful.
Mail acton for mail bot app great for stuff like this. That ability to just blaze through
it really quickly, you--you've taken down the ramp up to that, right? Because ordinarily
you feel like, "Oh gosh, it's Monday, I got to go run and put out my fires," but you can
do that but as long as you don't do it to the exclusion of the other stuff, how you
do it? >> So I think I try and get rid of the junk
first and then see what's left. >> MANN: I think that's brilliant, I think
that... >> Thanks.
>> MANN: I think that--no--but I think and I'll tell you why. Sure, it's funny but the--what
we're doing is a pattern and you say [INDISTINCT] junk you know duh, that's a pattern that you
can extend a long way, that pattern of "Okay, this is--I immediately see that this is stuff
I can get rid of," taking that and extending that to okay and here's stuff that I don't
need to do now that I can do later or here's things that I know I need to do this about
but you're making this very fast "in the moment" decisions and once you get good at this stuff
indicating, you should--any of those five steps should come to you very quickly because
you know where it goes. Deleting these because you know it just goes away. If you can't make
decisions as quickly as you delete it's because you don't know where stuff should go and that's
the missing part in your system maybe. Yes, you sir?
>> So in related question. If you're a very bad boy and you have a large inbox dating
back how many months, what would you do if you find yourself in such a situation, including
what letters from friends and you feel really guilty for not [INDISTINCT]?
>> MANN: So, hypothetically--hypothetically, if you have been letting--I'm assuming this
is a live email compose check all the time. Okay. There is a difference between like versus
like having email checks accounts you only check periodically, but if it's something
where that's--that intuition has been happening overtime and it's been a piling up, piling
up, piling up. I'll tell you the very first thing I would do; I ask--I tell people to
create something that I call the email DMZ. So the first thing you need to do is to stop
sucking. Like before you get good, you have to stop sucking. So first of all, go make
a folder called DMZ and drag everyone of those emails into that folder and then stop doing
that. That's my first thing. Do you follow what I'm saying?
>> Yeah. >> MANN: It's like--and so--but I see other
people go like, "Well--well, yeah, but I still got all that email." I'm like, "Yeah, but
if you had done that six months ago, you would have six months less of stuff that had piled
up." So number one, clear out your inbox. Give yourself a fresh start and put that into
a folder. You still have to go through all that email which you can do in dashes. That's
the first thing that I would do. You could--there's a lot--been a lot of talk lately about email
bankruptcy and the idea of basically bccing everybody you know and saying, "That's it
new dealer, I'm done." If it's really important call me. So you suck it. I'm out of here.
I--that's hard to do and I know a company that will probably really hard to do. But
I think--no, seriously, I think--I think it helps to give yours--I mean, how can I put
this? You--if it was easy for you to answer those, you already would have answered them.
If that was something that you could do and in your head, if that's something you can
do in five minutes, you already would have done it. You got to be honest with yourself.
You don't get an empty inbox by living a lie. You got to start by being really honest with
yourself. So, if you know you'll never going to respond to some email, even if it's somebody
that you love, love, love, delete it. What are you going to do instead? Keep it for six
months and then delete it? Oh, well that's awesome, that--they probably feel great, you
know? If you're going to answer, answer it now. I mean, aren't we in a get all like Kung
Fu on? You [INDISTINCT] I mean? Like that's what you got to do. And, I mean, what you
could do, I mean there's all kinds--this is how pathetic I am. There's all of little tricks
you could do. Like you could go in there and--and take it from a slightly different point of
view and say, "Of the people in here, all those friends and all those babies that have
been born and all those birthdays that went by, what would make me feel great? Which one
of these people would I actually really like to connect with?" So, instead of thinking
of it as this deficit that makes you feel terrible, try to think of it as like "if I
could reach out to one person and feel really energized by writing to them" start there.
Yes, hey? >> So one of the issues that many of us here
have is, it seems like your system would work really well on a personal account, but with
a work account, frequently, somebody will email your team. And now there are, you know,
maybe 20 people that could respond to this issue, so you might look at the email and
you might say, "Well, I could respond or I could wait for one of the other 20 people
to respond." >> MANN: Right.
>> And so you ignore it for an hour or two, and then you come back to it later and you
say, "Oh, did anyone respond yet? Maybe. Do I want to respond now?" So do you have any
suggestions for playing this little waiting game with your teammates?
>> MANN: Well, yeah. Two things--well, first of all it's a trick question because, you
know, it's--that a--if that's--if the practice of your group is to have stuff generically
go out to 20 people and hope someone takes care of it. There's--there's a part of that
workflow that makes me think that could probably tuned a little bit. I would suggest something
like bug tracking or something like that. But, no--but seriously, I mean, you're right.
I mean--but--how can I put this? I mean, my friend [INDISTINCT] talks about this all the
time. You know, people come in, they come to you, they go, "Oh, we got to get a CMS,
we've got to get to this, we've got to get to that. Here's this thing I read about in
the in flight magazine, it's going to make our company really great." And, you know,
the trouble is, the technology is going to do your bidding, but it's not going to fix
communication problems or broken practices. That said, there are ways that you could probably
do it, is there to tend to be one or two people that actually do the work or does it get widely
distributed? That went out to 20 people... >> [INDISTINCT] whoever can answer the question
the answer is sometimes. >> MANN: Right. And so you see if they--when
they respond to that, that could cc everybody in the group and you would know that they
got answered. Huh, so the whole time you--you're just kind of sitting there, going like--who's
it going to be? Wow, that's wow, um, it's a good question I mean I--that's sound like
a kind of a practice that you guys could talk--seems like you could talk a little bit to--to clean
that up a little bit but I don't--I mean I--I would have to think something like bug tracking
would be better for something like that but--but it--it gives me chance to say one thing, there
are some problems that can't be fixed by email and there are some problems where email--how
can I put this? Email--you know, is just the canary in the coal mine. You feel the pain
in that place, um, in the inbox--by the way, you can read more about the stuff at
it redirects to a 43 Folders series that contains a bunch of this crap. But what you do if somebody
who keeps sending you junk, for example? This is--I mean in some ways, this is somewhat
related to that, like you get the--the aunt that keep sending you the--the urban myths
and, uh, $200 cookie and all that stuff and you just keep sending them the snoop's links
but they keep sending you--you know, the stuff. There's some stuff where you've really just
got--you either got prank mail them, or you got to talk to them. So, I don't know--I mean
I guess I feel like there's all kinds of problems that--that you could at least start to say,
"Hey, does anybody else that see that said something that we could work on?" I don't
know, what--what do you guys think? Is this--is that--what he's describing is a big Google
wide problem? >> Yeah.
>> Yeah, you know, it's like the FBI too. People are shooting this entire thing, this
is all being recorded. Yeah, seriously but that is--is that a widespread problem? Not
knowing who's going to handle something sent to distribution. Who's got the best solution
for it here? Yeah? >> I still just do like recommending it just
[INDISTINCT] with less response, just do it and if not, really able to feel responsible
and then when you get around to it, when you have time to actually send the folder, maybe
somebody has already responded and you have nothing to do it or memorizes your number.
>> Does it--does getting good about responding to that harm you in the long run? Do you become
to go-to person and is that a good thing or a bad thing?
>> Well, the problem with responding like immediately, it seems that it's--it's--then
the person who send the email gets pretty responses all simultaneously and...
>> Right. >> So this all will be sent to you. So, there
is some advantage to waiting just... >> See what happens.
>> To--to prevent every one from responding simultaneously?
>> Yeah. >> When I--when I had worked [INDISTINCT]
four or five days and everyday it's missing a one. I do not answer but we just direct
other things to answer and they didn't have time to be able to answer or have it all and
so we don't--you're not doing all the work by yourself. What the others do because they
made it to the wrong guy, they would tell you and you have to change and so--so everyone
gets to know that you [INDISTINCT] >> So, it becomes a little bit like reverse
office hours like there's--like you a time when you're not responding?
>> Some of it [INDISTINCT] usually it goes to manager to answer these things and, uh,
if--at Google point, there is no manager at fault because how can do that, it's 52,000
[INDISTINCT] yeah that it would seems you have to do it and on all they did all to there
best as well to manage. >> Oh, did, I'm--I'm interested hearing more
about that--that's I think--that's--I think that's--that's a very--that's a tough question.
And--and I'm just curious though I--I guess sometimes you guys try to--try to squash the
myth but so show--show of hands, emails that come from a Google address that you receive
everyday in your estimation, 100? >> Close--closer than that.
>> Well, like you come in you turn on your computer, if you had nothing in place--how
many Google emails would be in your inbox? Can somebody toss out--how much, 200?
>> Five hundred. >> Five hundred. Can anybody more than 500?
So, if this [INDISTINCT] is more than 500--some of you are getting more than 500 emails?
>> Emails and conversation. >> Yeah, just write anonymous.
>> Whatever helps, uh, if I, man I--I would really want to ask what I get out if people
get 600 emails a day and how much, um, how many of them are actionable? What percentage
of your emails are actionable--require you to do something other than read them and file
them? >> Two and to one percent.
>> Just 5%. >> One to 5%--2%? Hey, how's it going? Um,
wow, that's--that's extraordinary if I was--if I was Mr. Google, I would--I would want to
ask a lot of questions, that's extraordinary. Well, more question--yeah?
>> Um, actually just an announcement but not to finish the questions many of you know this
but I wanted to mention that we do bring the David Allen Company here to do "Getting Things
Done" courses on a regular basis so if any of you have not taken it or you studied GTD
before and you want a refresher, you're absolutely welcome to enroll a class. In fact, we have
them going this Thursday and Friday, I know it's last minute but we do have some seats--it's
a one day class, we offer it across two half days. So, two morning sessions or two afternoon,
you can enroll by going to go/gtdw, so, just wanted to mention that.
>> That's awesome, yeah, that's great. I knew Ev took his--took the barter team to that
a while back, uh, I think it's--I mean not, this is--I guess this is a plug so I'll call
it a plug. That's a heck of a seminar. It's funny one thing people always ask is how do
you--how do you GTD on teens. The truth is it can be pretty hard to like make anybody
do anything like that but it's kind of this object oriented, productivity approach where
if everybody has responsible--there are little black boxes responsible about input and output--it
kind of makes things little healthier, that's cool if you do that. We've probably got time
for one more question? Anybody else and I'll hang around after if anybody wants to say
yeah or whatever but--one more question? Come on, make me feel good, ask a question--yeah.
>> All right, see, I was [INDISTINCT] to make a day here if I didn't ask it. So, [INDISTINCT]
maybe I am but my problem with my mailbox is just--to like just bother checking every
single email like literally clicking the box is more pain than I can bear and I think the
problem we have at Google is that you're on--we don't have like--we have an internal RssReader
but a lot of stuff probably could be on blogs like we're just used to doing it on mailing
list since your mailing list are kind of notice knowledge archive, firehost type thing?
>> Yeah. >> So, do you have any techniques for dealing
with like the knowledge firehost that... >> Yeah.
>> know, proxies for? >> That's--that's really interesting that
you--you--as you were speaking I started to think there was, uh, there was an article
I read in kind of early 90's that was comparing--talking about Macs and Windows, I guess it was mid
90's. Comparing Macs and Windows and saying that Windows was very Protestant and Mac was
very Catholic, it seems like you need almost like an information priest, you need--it sounds
like for--some of these problems you need sectional representatives who are helping
to digest this and then share the really relevant parts of it. If there are stuff where not
everybody needs to know about it--yeah, that's a firehost, that's crazy and again I mean
blaming email is--you know, that's just kind of blaming the messenger, it sounds like that's
one thing that might be helpful but go ahead... >> I just wanted to say--sometimes I've thought
that Google relies on randomness to make sure the information gets to the right person.
It's kind of like redundant random graph and like it might or might not flow--you hope
for the best. >> Really? So, like they just--they just throw
it all out there and it kind of hope it sticks. >> Well, like your talking to somebody at
lunch and they're like, "Oh, you're doing that project, have you heard the person in
New York who's doing a very similar project?'' No--no, I haven't.
>> Well, Google, home of the random information spotter. Hey, so I have been Merlin and this
has been Inbox Zero and thank you very much to--to Dick in particular for having me in
today. Thanks to everybody, you all hung out--thank you.