If it’s in my inbox, it gets done. It’s that realization that I came to about six months ago that made me fully embrace email rather than run from it. 

I have tried almost every possible solution to managing the work day ( meaning communication, task management and general organization/priorities). For instance, I’ve tried:

Omnifocus for task management, Evernote for note-taking and Dropbox for file storage

Evernote as a task management tool

Android widgets for priority task management

The problem with many of these additional tools is that I wasn’t always remembering to use them. I’d get busy in a day or be at a conference for two days and realize I hadn’t opened up my task management tool to see what I was missing. But you know what I always look at, regardless of how busy I am? Email.

If you can’t beat ’em, join e’m, right? No matter how hard I have fought in the past to reduce my reliance on email, the simple fact is that email isn’t going anywhere and maybe instead of fighting it, I should embrace it and, more importantly, optimize the heck out of it.

Here’s what I do:

– I use Priority Inbox in Gmail which means I only see emails that I have told Gmail are important, or that Gmail has decided were important to me. Everything else goes right into an Archived folder. This probably cut down 75% of the emails I was receiving.

– Now that I only receive the important stuff in my inbox, I move emails around via Boomerang (via Gmail on the web) and Mailbox (on my Nexus 5 and iPad) to the time when I can act on them. For example, a lot of my non-profit work is pushed to Saturday mornings when I know I’ll get up early and can knock that stuff out. Or emails I see this morning that I know I can’t act on until this afternoon when my calendar is free, I forward to that specific time.

– Any emails that need to be stored for future reference, but not acted upon, I forward into my Evernote account and delete the email.

– Files that need to be saved for later I upload into my Dropbox account and delete the email.

I now routinely achieve the coveted Inbox Zero by using this process. But more importantly, I no longer feel held down by email but instead I feel empowered by it as the ultimate tool to getting work done.

PS – I pay for advanced services with Dropbox, Evernote and Boomerang to achieve this process.