It happens to even the best of us every once in a while.
Hundreds of messages piled up in your inbox:
- a jumble of things you keep meaning to tend to,
- stuff you're waiting for,
- things you want to be able to reference later,
- and messages you've frankly forgotten about because they've become lost in the clutter.
In contrast, I've had "inbox zero" as an ongoing goal for myself for a long time now.
Until this year, I achieved that goal every once in a while, but it wasn't nearly as often as I would have liked. Nowadays, it's a regular occurrence.
Read on for more information about what it is, plus examples and tips on how to use it.
NudgeMail is a free service that allows you to send yourself email reminders at specified dates, times, and intervals.
That doesn't sound like a big deal at first.
But when you really delve into the possibilities, it turns out that NudgeMail is an incredibly powerful tool for helping you get stuff out of your inbox. The key is email forwarding.
Let's look at four specific examples from my own inbox.
Example #1: Continuing Education
Like most helping professionals, I'm required to earn a certain number of CE credits each year in order to maintain my license. (Mine is in applied psychology.)
By now, there are a number of providers who periodically send me emails about the great continuing education offerings they have available to help me fulfill that obligation.
Many of those emails get deleted right away — they're just not interesting or relevant. (Or affordable — CE can get expensive!)
But sometimes I'll get a message that I'll look at and think, "Well, if nothing better comes along, this will do." I might have 6 months left, though, before I have to decide.
I could leave the message in my email inbox for weeks or months to remind me it's an option. But we know the potential problems with that. Particularly if I'm doing the same thing with lots of other emails.
So instead I forward it to myself via NudgeMail so that it will come back to me when I'm in a better position to decide, perhaps in another 4 or 5 months. Then I archive the message or delete it completely.
This is just one example of a "someday-maybe" email — things you may or may not want to do something about, but now is not the right time to decide. Other examples include events you might want to attend if you have time, sale items you might want to purchase, possible ideas for a future project, etc.
You probably get a good number of these landing in your inbox. NudgeMail is great at getting them out of your way for the time being and bringing them back to you to contemplate later.
Example #2: Online Purchase
If you buy things online, you know how it usually works. The vendor sends you an email confirming your purchase and telling you when you can expect the item. Then when they ship it they send you another email letting you know it's on its way.
But that's IF it ships.
I did a couple times have the experience of buying something from a "seller" on Amazon (i.e., through the Amazon.com website but not from Amazon itself) that then never actually showed up. Amazon was great about getting me a refund, but I had to first remember that I had ordered the item and notice that it hadn't showed up.
Nowadays I just forward the initial confirmation email to myself, scheduled to arrive the day after the seller has promised the item to me. If I haven't yet received it, the email will remind me to follow up.
This is a great example of a "waiting-for" item.
You've got tons of these in your life: information you've requested from a colleague, meetings you're trying to schedule, etc. Use NudgeMail to remind yourself to follow up if you don't hear back.
Example #3: Happy Hour Gathering
A nonprofit consultants book group I belong to recently lost steam due to our many busy schedules. We knew the attempted monthly gatherings were no longer working, so we decided it was time to try something different.
I offered to host a happy hour in a few months time (in early January), with a structured format for sharing ideas that had influenced us in 2012 and sharing aspirations for our consulting work in 2013.
I said I'd get back in touch about scheduling the gathering if there was sufficient interest. And then I promptly forwarded the message to myself via NudgeMail, scheduling it to arrive in two weeks time.
By the time the reminder came back to me, it was clear there was lots of interest. So the next step was to get a date on our calendars. But if no one had said anything further about it, I could have just let the whole thing drop.
This is an example of an "if-then" message. If something happens, then you need to take action.
NudgeMail is a great way to remember to ask yourself if the "if" did indeed occur.
In this case, it did. So I followed up, and we ended up having a delightful gathering in my living room last month.
Example #4: Meeting Reminders
I hold a lot of meetings.
For many of them, I know I can rely on the person to show up when they said they would.
On the other hand, there are a few folks I meet with whom I've learned aren't always so reliable. They've yet to fully make friends with their calendars. :)
I don't send meeting reminders/confirmations to everyone who's on my calendar. But for a few key people, it's a wise practice if I want to guarantee I won't get stood up.
To remind myself, I could leave our initial email exchange (the one where we agreed on the purpose and date for the meeting) in my inbox, hoping that seeing it there would prompt me to send another email. But most likely I'd be the one forgetting, because it would get lost in the shuffle with all the other things there in my inbox.
Or I could archive the conversation and trust (hope) that I'd remember to send the reminder when I spot the meeting coming up soon in my calendar.
But the best way for me to remember is to forward that initial conversation to myself at a future date, a day or two before the scheduled meeting. Or if my colleague has significant prep work to do for the meeting, I'll schedule it to come back to me a week beforehand so I can give them a nudge a bit sooner.
This is an example of a "do something on this specific date" kind of email. Other examples are electronic bills and prep work that you yourself may need to do for upcoming meetings or deadlines.
NudgeMail is really handy for getting these items out of your way until it's time to take action.
Anatomy of a NudgeMail Reminder
Curious about what a Nudgemail message looks like when it comes back to you? Here's a screenshot from the above "Happy Hour" example:
As you can see, it shows the email subject, the date you sent the reminder, and the "full details" below (any notes you've added and the original message you're forwarding).
It also offers a range of options for quickly "snoozing" the reminder if needed.
An important thing to note is that you have two options when setting the arrival date/time for your reminder:
- You can schedule it by typing the day/date/time in the subject line for the message.
- Or you can schedule it based on what address you forward your message to — e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc.
I recommend that you go with the second option. That allows you to make better use of the subject line of your message. (More on this in the tips section below.)
Detailed instructions and commands are available on the NudgeMail website.
But don't worry — it's pretty intuitive and easy to pick up!
6 Tips for Making the Most of NudgeMail
Tip #1: Change the subject line to something meaningful.
In the "Happy Hour" example above, the original email subject line was:
Re: Consensus appears to be "it is difficult to commit, let's try something different"
Not so helpful to me when I'm trying to figure out what this reminder is about. So I changed it to something that would tell me at a glance:
Waiting: Consultants' Happy Hour in January?
But remember, you can only do this if you use the "to:" line of your email to control when your reminder arrives (instead of using the email subject line for that purpose).
Tip #2: Remind yourself of what you need to do.
Just like with regular email forwards, you can type a message above the one you're forwarding. Do it.
Why? Your head is in this right now. You know what you need to do when the message comes back to you.
But a month from now when the message shows up again, you'll be a little fuzzier on all that. You might need to re-read the original email to see what you promised you would do. Or you might need to think hard to remember the brilliant strategy you came up with for how to handle the task.
So just write a few little instructions to yourself now, and you can go into autopilot mode when the reminder shows up.
Tip #3: Snooze your message if you need more time.
Sometimes circumstances change and you need a little more time.
You can easily "snooze" your reminder by clicking on one of the options at the top of the email. Or if those snooze options don't work for you, you can just forward it to a different date/time, and it accomplishes the same thing.
The above "Happy Hour" reminder got snoozed when it came back to me. New, more pressing things had come up since I first sent the message, and since the event wasn't for another couple months, it wouldn't hurt to wait and deal with it a bit later. It was nice to be able to quickly get the reminder out of my inbox, knowing it would show up again at a more convenient time.
But don't overuse this feature, ok? :)
Tip #4: Don't forward everything.
That's just postponing the inevitable and will just waste your time in different ways as you re-read and re-forward the same emails again and again.
Be strategic, and only forward things that are time-specific or response-dependent.
Tip #5: Now get that message out of your inbox!
You've forwarded the email to yourself so it will arrive at the appropriate time. Now either delete it or file it.
I tagged the above Gmail "Happy Hour" conversation with my "networking" label and then archived it (i.e., removed it from my inbox without deleting it) because I knew I might need to refer back to the various messages in this thread.
But often times I simply delete a message after I've forwarded it to NudgeMail. No point needlessly cluttering up your email archives.
Tip #6: Feeling paranoid? You can double-check.
Worried that you forgot to forward that really, really important email to yourself before deleting it? Never fear, you can check.
Just send an email to "firstname.lastname@example.org" and you'll get a reply listing all the upcoming messages/reminders you've scheduled for yourself.
Your Next Steps
NudgeMail has become such an integral part of the way I use email, that it's hard to believe I ever functioned without it. I hope you'll find it (and the above tips) as helpful as I have.
It's easy — and free — to give it a try.
Sign up at NudgeMail.com, take a quick look at their "how to" page for instructions on how to forward/send an email to Future You, and then send yourself a test message (e.g., to email@example.com) to test it out.
You'll quickly discover how easy and useful this tool really is.
And if you're as excited as I am about the great things NudgeMail can do for the state of your inbox, please share this article with others so they can finally master their email too!