I think a good time to fix broken processes is after a period of disrupted routines. I was away from normal work all last week, so I came back to a full inbox. Since one of my weak areas is email triage, I decided to dedicate some time to fixing that today.

Without delving into minutia, I tweaked just two things. The first was my filing system. Similar to the GTD processing phase, I only did tasks requiring a couple of minutes and captured everything else. This isn’t new, in and of itself, but today I limited the capture to one of only three forms: archiving messages requiring neither action nor recall; filing messages requiring later recall but no action; adding to my task list and filing any messages requiring both action and later recall.

The second thing I did was mentally commit to empty my inbox. This may sound obvious, but I think it was the most important part of picking up the pieces of my broken process. I can, and will continue to refine the capture phase of my email triage, but at some point I just need to do the work.

For this reason, I put in place a couple of arbitrary rules to train myself. First, I have to empty my inbox by the end of the first day back from being out of the office. Second, I have empty my inbox if the total message count gets above a certain number. I will be testing different numbers, because staying on top of incoming messages often means living in email. I refuse to live in email.

When all was said and done, I left work today three hours after everyone else, but I feel great. I know exactly what new tasks cropped up while I was gone, and this has banished the anxiety I usually feel after time away. Other aspects of email are still stressing me out, but I’ll save that for another day.