One day, a man approached the famous financier J.P. Morgan, held up an envelope, and said, "Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell to you for $25,000."
"Sir," Morgan replied, "I do not know what is in the envelope. However, if you show me and I like it, I give you my word as a gentleman that I will pay you what you ask."
The man agreed to the terms and handed over the envelope. Morgan opened it, and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look and handed the piece of paper back to the gent, pulled out his checkbook, and paid the man the agreed-upon $25,000.
The paper read:
1. Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.
2. Do them.
I love this story.
It's a timeless reminder that the barrier to success isn't a lack of knowing what to do, rather it's having the discipline and systems to actually do it.
There's only one problem here...
JP Morgan didn't have email.
We are at war with our inboxes.
We are barraged daily by customer emails, bills, newsletters, social media notifications, and the dreaded chain emails from friends and family members. Yes, I'm talking about you, Laura.
Everyone and everything is fighting for your attention.
For this piece, I want to focus on one particular aspect of Inbox Zero: task management.
For our individual priorities, we leave emails in our inbox as a reminders for us to complete a particular tasks.
Unfortunately, these reminders are buried amongst 100's or 1000's of emails and thus quickly get lost. There is no context of when these emails needs to be completed. The longer these emails fester in our inbox, the more we are reminded of the tasks we are procrastinating on.
For team task management, emails forwarded to the team tend to emulate light entering into a black hole.
We regularly forward tasks to our team with the message "see below" which is a euphemism for "I need you to solve this problem, but I'm too lazy to summarize exactly what I want you to do so I'm going to let you waste your time reading through a 20 thread email chain to figure out what to do... so yeah, see below."
The solution is simple.
If an email requires additional actions, remove it from your inbox and put it on a to-do list, assign it to the appropriate person, and set a due date.
For personal task management, Any.do tops our list. It's elegantly integrated into your inbox and allows you to quickly add tasks.
If you're managing tasks for your team, I recommend Basecamp. I keep Basecamp open all day long and I regularly move emails from my inbox to Basecamp, assign it, and set a due date. Basecamp is the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I check at night.
Your inbox is a list of other people's priorities. Smart, successful people start their days working on their priorities.
You're in control, don't forget that.