Email Kanban

Daily just-in-time productivity workflow

Ivan CherevkoA gentleman and a scholar
October 09, 2013

Just like most people who work white-collar jobs in this century, email turned out to be the main communication and productivity tool for me; a daily springboard; a to-do list.

It is both a good friend and a bitter enemy; at times, I'd feel powerless and swamped by the never-ending distraction noise; at others, the ordered neatness of the inbox quickly approaching fabled Inbox Zero would make me feel productive, organized, and fully in control of my professional life.

Yet, in my thirteen years of using email, there was a distinct before and after

Enter Mailbox

Mailbox is a neat little iOS mail client. It's pretty, it's lightweight, it's all of these things, I don't care for none of them. What I care for is a killer feature that completely changed my daily workflows – snoozes. This feature is not unique to Mailbox; Boomerang has them, some other tools may have as well. Yet Mailbox's gesture-driven interface has enabled me to have a completely different workflow with email – one that I call, erroneously, email kanban.

Mailbox screenshot

Email kanban

Whenever an email hits your inbox, you either:

  • archive it without reading, for junk (tools like Sanebox may help reduce clutter of junk mail that needs not to be read)
  • read it and archive it
  • if you can immediately react to the email, react (reply or act on something) and archive
  • if you cannot react to the email due to the circumstances, snooze it for 3 hours or so (depends on the circumstance; it might be tomorrow, next week, in three months, on the weekend… you're free to choose for yourself, and with Mailbox, it's just one tap away anyways)

…and move on to the next email.

After you have reacted to the task at hand, if it needs your attention in the future (followup in case of no reply, check on something and add to the discussion, or just keep as a todo item), you snooze the thread away for the needed period of time. After it passes, the thread will be #1 in your inbox again.

This way:

  • I manage to frequently achieve Inbox Zero's (because before I had to keep on emails that are task items but cannot be acted on right now in the inbox; now I snooze them away)
  • I can process my inbox in one direction, always (since if there is time- or circumstance-dependent email thread, I can snooze it away, instead of awkwardly skipping it over, breaking the flow)
  • I can productively work on email in places like transit or gym, where I have only short amounts of time at hand, freeing up productive, “flow” time for real work.

The process I have acquired with Mailbox have changed my professional life significantly. If more people who are email-bottlenecked would embrace this process, we would see significant productivity gains all over the board, with more time for real work and less time for daily communication bookkeeping.

And if Dropbox (new owners of Orchestra) would release a Mailbox client for Mac or Web, I'd be even more happy =)

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