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Yesterbox: a to-do list from yesterdays inbox

yesterbox_email_inbox_management_leadTony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, has developed a new technique handling email that he calles the Yesterbox technique.

The idea behind Yesterbox is that your inbox content of yesterday will be today’s to-do list. The technique follows 10 rules, which I’ll describe in short below. It sounds like a big change from Atos’ dropping email in favor of other communication techniques.

1. Your “to do” list each day is simply yesterday’s email inbox (hence, “Yesterbox”).

The advantage of this way of working through your email is that you know exactly what your day will look like. Response times are faster than normal, as you would just look at a pile of unanswered mail that needs sorting and handling. Working with yesterdays email means your response would at last be the next day, instead of next month or several months later. People tend to delay handling the more difficult (or work intense) emails, just like Tony Hsieh did before.

2. If it can wait 48 hours without causing harm, then you are not allowed to respond to any emails that come in today, even if it’s a simple one-word reply.

Discipline is the key here. Only emergency or direct response needed emails are allowed to be handled today. Focus on yesterdays email, remember? Also, imho things that have to be done today should be handled by phone or face-to-face, not via email. It’s not a direct channel, it’s a patient channel.

3. When processing yesterday’s inbox, you must process 10 of yesterday’s emails before you’re allowed to look at any emails that are coming in today.

Today doesn’t count, yet. Process 10 emails first (it takes Tony about 30 minutes, apparently) before you look at today’s email. Having that focus on the first 10 of yesterday means you also allow yourself the time and mindset to handle those hard and long emails.

For Outlook users, Tony provides this tip to prevent cheating: collapse the Today group of emails by clicking on the arrow in the header (left of ‘Today’) .

4. Calendaring: reply takes quite a bit of time to complete? Schedule it like a meeting.

Some emails can’t be replied to in a minute. They need research, work, internal judgment and such. Schedule time to handle that email, with the folder it’s been moved to and the subject line in the appointment. This way, you won’t delay handling those long-time emails more than necessary: make time, dedicated.

5. You also need to set a recurring appointment to go through yesterday’s inbox every day.

To make this work well, you need to schedule handling yesterday’s email. This would preferrably done at the beginning of your day. For Yesterbox to work, it might take a full one or two hours (Tony mentions 3, but I guess he receives a high volume of emails).

6. When in your “reward” phase of reading the latest emails from today, you’re only allowed to do the following with today’s emails: delete, file, or forward.

With Yesterbox, efficiency is key. Can it wait? Let it wait. Is it a followup from yesterday’s conversation? Handle it, but only if it allows you to delete yesterday’s email from that conversation (hence, trimming down the volume of yesterday’s email to handle).

7. If you need to refer to an email later

Need a reminder to check up on the status of an email (conversation)? Schedule it in your calendar, with referral to the folder you filed the email in and maybe the person(s) involved in the conversation.

8. If you fall behind and have emails that are older than yesterday’s inbox (yes, it still happens), schedule additional time on your calendar to catch up to emails older than yesterday’s inbox.

Even if this happens, start with yesterday’s inbox first. To handle email that’s even older than yesterday (some people will have to get used to that idea of before yesterday = old): schedule extra time in your calendar to handle it.

9. For emails that can wait (such as videos, non-urgent articles, etc.) and have no real deadline, send those emails to another email address

Have email that’s not really work-related or really ‘patient’ emails? Send them to another address (like your personal one) and delete them. It saves your inbox one email at the time.

10. Put emails that are notes into Evernote and remove them from your inbox.

Quite some emails don’t need a response or an action. Move them as notes into Evernote and delete. Ahhh, another email handled!

So there you go: the ten points regarding the Yesterbox email handling technique. I find it intriguing, and might adopt it myself. Have you already adopted Yesterbox? Would it be something for you? My guess is that not everyone gets a big load of email everyday. But if you do, Yesterbox might just be the trick for you. I wonder how many emails Tony Hsieh gets on average which led him to adopt this technique…

Sources:

LinkedIn: Yesterbox relieving email guilt

Yesterbox

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2 thoughts on “Yesterbox: a to-do list from yesterdays inbox

  1. Pingback: Inbox Triage | Get In The Inbox

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