When I was in college, I had a professor who demanded all computer programs be written modularly, broken into logical functions and procedures that were short enough to be viewed on one screen without scrolling. We would get a one letter grade deduction for each procedure in the program that did not fit on one screen. (at that time, one screen was 25 lines) His reasoning was that troubleshooting a unit of code was vastly more difficult when the entire piece could not be viewed at one time.
This same best practice applies to most everything you view on the computer including websites and INBOXES. That’s right. The moment you have to scroll your inbox to view all the messages, you have reached the point of functional breakdown. Once you have to scroll the inbox, those messages not on the screen are less likely to be looked at ever again and it is very unlikely it will ever get back to not scrolling without radical action. Why? Because it literally becomes endless. That is, you can’t see the ends. Other than the size of the slider in relation to the bar, there is no way to tell how many messages are in the inbox. And as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind. It is vastly easier to keep an inbox to less than one screen full than it is to reduce an inbox to one screen once the scroll bar appears.
Some people would have you believe the Inbox Maintenance feature is the greatest thing to come along for maintaining your inbox. WRONG. All it does is hides the problem and makes it even harder to fix later. Once you remove the messages from the inbox without adding them to another folder, they become lost in the morass of the All Documents view, forever inseparable from the messages that have been properly filed except through creative coding of an agent. Sure, that will temporarily improve server performance, but it does not go far enough to address the real problem: degraded human performance. The server will tolerate an inbox with several hundred messages. But humans performance degrades as soon as they don’t all fit on one screen. (This is the one advantage of using the preview pane on the side rather than the bottom.)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Step 1: Empty your inbox.
- Create a folder called “Inbox 2010″
- Open your inbox and select all messages. All of them. On a PC type Ctrl-A to select all.
- Drag them to the new folder you just created. You now have an empty inbox. You can always go back and deal with those messages you moved when you have extra time. But we both know that won’t happen.
Step 2: Keep the inbox empty for as long as you can.
- Make it your goal to eliminate all new messages promptly. Whenever possible, process each one only once. Read it, act on it and delete or file it. Much like a video game, your goal is to “kill” the emails. You lose as soon as your inbox gets large enough to scroll.
Step 3: Game Over: Start again.
- When you get the scroll bar for the inbox, repeat step 1 again.
You can simplify the process of filing messages if you install Swiftfile, the free add-on from IBM that learns your message filing habits and gives quick links for the 3 folders you will most likely want to file the message. In just one click the message is filed and next one opened. (see screen shot)
For more on this topic, check out the book Getting Things Done by David Allen.
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