Inbox (almost) zero, x4

I always like to post something when I get my inbox to zero. (It only happens once every couple of years.) Right now, I’ve got my work inbox down to almost zero, and my three personal accounts also down to almost zero. So this may be the first time that *all* my accounts have been completely processed.

I’ve been doing fairly well at keeping my work email inbox down to a manageable size. We have a pretty typical Exchange/Outlook setup, and most of my work falls neatly into project folders, so I just file stuff away in those, and use Outlook follow-up flags to keep track of next actions. And I keep project notes in OneNote, with next actions generally marked in there if they’re not already marked in Outlook. (I use OneNote rather than Evernote at work, since our setup is fairly Microsoft-centric.)

On the personal side, I’m trying to use GMail for all my important mail now. I have a couple of other accounts that were still getting a fair bit of important mail, but I finally cleared that up so that nearly everything is coming into GMail now. Also, I was being fairly inconsistent on the ways in which I was flagging stuff in GMail, sometimes “starring” stuff that I needed to follow-up on, and sometimes applying “Action” and “Waiting For” labels. And then, I wasn’t really following up on either the stars or the labels consistently. Well, I’ve now un-starred everything, and either assigned an appropriate label or processed the starred message. And I’ve gone through the labeled messages and cleaned up all the old ones, so there are now only a few tagged messages, and they’re all recent.

Now, I’m trying to think of ways to *keep* my GMail account clean. First, I’m going to avoid using the “star” feature. It’s easy to fall into the habit of using the “flag” button in the iOS mail app, which translates to a star in GMail. But I’ve been flagging too much stuff that way, and never really going back and reviewing it, to figure out if it’s actionable or not. So I’m going to try to consistently use my “Action” label for stuff that requires an action on my part, and “Waiting For” for stuff that I need to wait on someone else for. And I really need to start reviewing those labels on a weekly basis and clearing them out.

I think it’s actually going to be much easier to keep my GMail inbox clean, given some of the changes I’ve made, and some of the stuff I’ve cleared up. I’ve unsubscribed from several mailing lists, so there will be less cruft to sort through initially. And I’ve set up a few new filters to sort out some stuff into a “Read/Review” label. (I’ve had that label in place for years, but hadn’t been keeping up with my filters, so a bunch of stuff wasn’t getting tagged automatically.)

My big challenge, which I’m still thinking about, is how to manage the various notices I get relating to statements that I need to download. I still get my important bills on paper (credit cards, bank statements, cable & utility bills). But I get only email notification on several other accounts (401(k), EZPass, etc.), which I then need to download, in PDF form usually, from a web site. This has proved to be a challenge for me; I tend to put it off for months. It’s not really a big deal, since there’s rarely anything earth-shattering on my 401(k) statement, or my EZPass statement. But I’d really like to get in the habit of downloading and reviewing these more often. And I’d like to switch some other statements over from paper to PDF, if I can get things to where I can trust myself to download them on a timely basis.

FileThis is an interesting service that will download statements for you, and deposit them into your Dropbox account (or Evernote, or several other places). But, it does this by using your web credentials to log into your accounts, so you have to hand over your user names and passwords to them, and that’s pretty scary. And they don’t say much about this on their site, but I’d guess that I’d have to turn off two-factor authentication on any accounts I use them for, since I don’t see how they could possibly deal with that on their end.

I haven’t found any other good ways to automate this stuff. So, sadly, I think I need to continue to download statements manually. I just need to figure out how to do it more frequently and more consistently. My plan, for now, is to consistently mark the emails relating to this stuff with an “Action” label, and follow up on those emails at least once a month. I’m going to reinforce that with a recurring reminder in either Evernote or the iPhone Reminders app. If I can get in the habit of doing that, maybe I can switch some more stuff over from paper to PDF.

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