We’re supposed to hate email and everything it represents.
But I have a confession to make.
I love email.
(Scandalous, I know.)
When it comes to email, I always think about the alternative: What would I do if there was no email at all?
Write letters? Telegrams?
Or most terrifying of all… get on the phone and call someone?!?!
Email makes it possible to be in direct contact with almost anyone in the world, at any time day or night, on any device. It requires no skills – other than reading and writing. And best of all… it’s free.
Email is the last bastion of free, open communication online.
But while email can make our communication more efficient and flexible, it’s also what some call a “Progress Trap” – a tool so effective and powerful that it grew beyond its inventors’ original intentions, and – in the process – created many new problems we have to deal with.
The very first email was sent in late 1971. This makes email 50 years old. It’s had an amazing run, but it’s time to reimagine and reinvent our approach to this medium.
After I started Forte Labs and became self-employed, solving email overwhelm was my first priority. I realized that if I didn’t solve the email problem once and for all, I would never get to more sophisticated, advanced forms of productivity.
So I studied. I experimented. And I read everything I could find to tackle the email problem… until eventually, I settled on a system.
Once I had tested the system extensively, I was ready to share more. So I wrote a blog post on my new method: One-Touch to Inbox Zero: How I Spend 17 Minutes Per Day on Email.
To this very day, this post is one of my most popular: I regularly receive messages from people who say it’s transformed their entire approach to online communication.
Without me knowing it – elsewhere on the web – my article was being read by the founding team of a startup called Superhuman.
Rahul Vohra, one of the top experts on email software in Silicon Valley, was working hard to crack the email code. And he decided to borrow some of the principles I described in my article to design Superhuman’s new email client.
Some of these principles included:
- Treat your email as a receiving area only (not a to-do list, content management system, or project management tool)
- Pick & commit to your 4 essential “downstream systems” (a read later app, a calendar app, a notes app, and a task manager)
- Start at your oldest email and process one at a time (never skipping an email and never going backward)
- Make your goal to decide where each email actually belongs (hint: not in your inbox!), then forward it to one of your four “downstream systems”
- And many more ideas (such as why you should never “delete” an email – and what to do instead)
Want to dig into my most up-to-date thinking on all of these principles?
Good news: Superhuman recently interviewed me and summarized my approach to Inbox Zero – including 4 steps you can take to transition to this method.
Read it here:
By the way – all these years later, Superhuman has become one of the most popular and influential email client apps, offering a “premium” user experience with helpful defaults that guide people toward more productive habits with their email.
Instead of having to change your behavior through sheer force of will, fighting the design of Gmail, which is designed to accommodate the needs of billions of people, Superhuman asserts an opinion about how email should be handled.
I love our exchange of ideas because I hope it’s something we see more of in the future: conceptual thinkers and productivity coaches informing the design of software based on what they understand about people’s psychology and behavior.
The popularity of Getting Things Done (GTD) shaped a generation of to-do list apps, which adopted its use of terms like “inbox,” “next action,” “someday/maybe,” and “projects and areas.” Having a shared framework for a skill like email management similarly allows software creators to focus on what they do best – performance and design.
Follow us for the latest updates and insights around productivity and Building a Second Brain on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. And if you’re ready to start building your Second Brain, get the book and learn the proven method to organize your digital life and unlock your creative potential.