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How Inbox Zero, GTD and Outlook Tasks Keep Me Sane

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    Ask any five people how to best manage tasks and you’ll get five different answers. Regardless of whichever task management system you are currently using, you need to be able to trust it.

    I wanted to share with you how I use the concepts of Inbox Zero, Getting Things Done (GTD) and Outlook Tasks to stay on top of my workload.

    Why You Need a Trusted Task Management System

    Working in a Perth SEO agency, you juggle a variety of responsibilities each day and the job can feel like spinning plates sometimes. The constant stream of emails throughout the day can quickly prove very distracting if you don’t have a method for dealing with them in a timely manner. Therefore it is essential you develop your own trusted task management system to get stuff done. After all, you have clients and bosses to keep happy, right.

    My task management system is by no means perfect, but after using it for close to three years, I trust the methodology enough to be sure I won’t forget to do even the most mundane tasks, let alone critical items on my to-do list.

    In Search for a Task Management Solution

    Like many people, I have a keen interest in self-improvement. Investing in reading books, blogs, listening to audiobooks, watching slide decks, podcasts and videos around this broad topic is something I see as important to career progression personal development.

    A little while ago I stumbled across the idea of Inbox Zero. Invented by productivity expert, Merlin Mann, the idea your emails out of your inbox and convert them into actions. You can find Mann’s great slide deck explaining Inbox Zero here.

    Inbox Zero ties in very nicely with David Allen’s world famous Getting Things Done (GTD) work-life management system – which essentially seeks to get ideas or tasks out of your head, organize them, then actioning them. I highly recommend any professional seeking to get a better handle on task management to read Allen’s book.

    How Inbox Zero and Getting Things Done (GTD) Changed My Focus Forever

    I’m the first to admit I used to be guilty of marking messages as unread and keeping them in the inbox to ‘get to later’. The trouble with this approach is I found myself reading and re-reading these same emails during the day as I forgot the content and urgency associated with them. I was wasting a lot of time and becoming stressed out about it.

    Implementing a strategy around Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero can empower you to feel like you are truly in control of your daily tasks.

    At the start of each morning, when processing your emails, instead of flagging them for later or using the old school, ‘Mark as Unread’ trick, you simply decide in which of the following four categories your email belongs:


    If you can reply in 2 minutes, do the task now


    If the email is not important, delete it, or archive for reference later


    Can you pass this email to someone else? If so, go for it!


    If the email cannot be answered straight away, don’t procrastinate, this is where we assign it as a Task in Outlook and set a due date for completion

    It’s really that easy. With this methodology, you can process your incoming emails very quickly, and get a nice empty inbox. At regular intervals throughout the day, performing these actions on your incoming mail lets you clear your head, freeing up space for more important tasks you need to get done today. Most importantly, you can stay focused on your work and not your emails.

    How to Setup Microsoft Outlook for Inbox Zero and Task Management

    There are a couple of really quick hacks to get your Outlook client setup and ready to go.

    Step 1

    Firstly we want to create a new folder called ‘Read Archive’ underneath the Inbox:

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    Now, you can always further categorise the Read Archive folder with sub folders for your clients/partners/projects or whatever, but I find Outlook’s inbuilt Search functionality allows me to find emails in a matter of seconds.

    Step 2

    Create a Quick Step that lets you mark the email as read and moves it to the Read Archive folder at the click of a button:

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    On the dialog box that pops up next, you’ll want to apply the actions to your Quick Step. Make sure you tell Quick Step to move your message to the Read Archive folder and mark it as read, too:

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    Step 3

    You’ll want to configure an Outlook Tasks View to help you see what tasks need to be done on which day. Outlook Tasks can be a little intimidating for the uninitiated, but trust me, it is worth the time to setup a view like the below:

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    Here is how we create this view:

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    On the next dialog box, select the View you want to modify and click, Modify:

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    On the next window, you want to configure each aspect of your View to correspond with the screenshot below.

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    For example, for Columns, you want to select Complete, Priority, Subject, Notes, Due Date like so:

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    Continue for the Group By, Sort and Filter categories to fully customise your View.

    Creating Tasks from Your Emails

    Now you have your Tasks View setup, you’re ready to start processing your emails using the Do, Delete/Archive, Delegate, Defer methodology. Let’s go!

    Looking at my Inbox, we can see five emails that need to be processed. Remember, we want to get to Inbox Zero.


    Any emails that don’t need a response or further action can either be deleted or archived. Using the Archive It! Quick Step button we created earlier.

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    An email that cannot be answered in two minutes, but needs actioning should be turned into a Task by simply right clicking on it and dragging it to the Tasks menu:

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    On the next popup window, we need to add some details to our task:

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    Once you have created the task, it now appears in your task list:

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    Head back to your Inbox and archive the email you just deferred for safe keeping:

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    Carry on processing your emails using the Do, Delete/Archive, Delegate, Defer methodology until you reach Inbox Zero.

    By turning your emails into tasks and assigning due dates for later in the day, week or month is a great way of helping you start focused.

    You also avoid the trap of opening and reopening emails in your inbox because you can’t work out which one to action next.

    To Wrap Up

    Please do consider giving Inbox Zero a shot. You will certainly develop a process that’s right for you, but as long as you stick to the fundamental idea of Do, Delete/Archive, Delegate or Defer, you can’t go wrong and you can leave your workstation at the end of each work day knowing your emails have been processed and out of your head.

    For assistance, speak to White Chalk Road about our automation services.

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