Most people who know me are aware of my love affair with Inbox Zero. First made popular by Merlin Mann, Inbox Zero is a method of managing your email and keeping your inbox empty. It’s a great email productivity system. I’ve taken the concepts, distilled them a bit further, and and added a few new twists. I also teach educational sessions on email productivity on a regular basis.
Though I’m a big fan, not everyone is willing to commit to following all the steps in a true Inbox Zero system. I frequently fall off the wagon myself and have to talk myself back into a happy place of email zen at times.
However, there is one simple technique from this system that you can implement immediately and easily, and which will likely make life easier. It’s called “offline mode”.
Most modern email programs (like Apple Mail, Outlook, etc.) have a setting called offline mode. When your email program is set to offline mode, no new mail will be fetched and your inbox will not get any bigger. When this state is enabled, you are now free to casually scan, process, and reply to email without feeling distracted by incoming mail.
I first thought of this a few years ago while flying. Many airlines now offer wifi during flight but for the most part, flying used to mean being totally disconnected. I would take my laptop on the flight and I began to notice how productive I was during the flight. I was able to reply to lots and lots of email because I was not distracted by incoming messages. It was also fun to get online after I landed and hear the satisfying “whoosh!” of 50 messages being sent off all at once.
Placing your email program in offline mode simply simulates that same experience and productivity gains but with the added bonus of allowing you to use the web and other tools at the same time.
Try this simple test: before you close your email program, set it to offline mode each time. Then, when you open it next time, commit to answering or processing as many emails as you can before setting it back to online mode. Keep this up for a week and see if you begin to get better control of your email.
I would love to hear your comments below!