Marquis vs Bastien - Inbox zero


:rocket: @Marquis_Murray and I have a combined experience of 20 years with using Asana and hundreds of clients helped. But we might not agree on everything and we thought it would be interesting for others to see how we align or not on important topics.

Inbox zero: should you require this from your employees?

:studio_microphone: MARQUIS

  • I think it’s difficult to require anyone to follow the Inbox Zero methodology, but I think that every organization should strive for this as a best practice.
  • Nothing gets to me more than when I see a notification of a “like” or a comment in Asana on a task or comment that I left 25 days ago. This is unacceptable and doesn’t make for a very collaborative workspace. It also lets me know that the other party isn’t checking their Inbox.
  • I’m of the belief that, at minimum, you should be using filters in Asana to make sure that the most important information is what is displayed to you in your inbox. At a minimum, I want to either clear my inbox each day or at least browse through the notifications to archive what isn’t important.
  • If you can’t action everything or respond right away, at least leave a like to let the person know that you’ve seen it. When you get back to your Inbox, then you can action any tasks or update the due date to a time that works for you.
  • People who don’t use their inboxes or respond weeks later have been known to be the same people that have overflowing email inboxes, out-of-control My Tasks, and Slack channels with endless notifications.
  • We should all be working towards some form of Inbox Zero so that we can make sure our attention is on the tasks and conversations that need our attention.
  • If all else fails, then there are also filters in your Inbox that help to remove a lot of the clutter and noise. You can also always remove yourself as a collaborator from tasks and projects that are no longer relevant to you. Doing nothing on the other hand just doesn’t make sense to me.

:studio_microphone: BASTIEN

In an ideal world, everyone should be at Inbox zero when they leave their desk at the end of the day. It is, according to me, impossible to have true clarity on your work if your email and Asana inboxes are not empty.

But don’t get me wrong: this is, at best, really hard, and at worst, completely impossible. You need to do a deep clean up first: unsubscribe from newsletters, leave tasks you don’t care about anymore, train your team to not add you to every single task, and stop with the “cc madness” where we put everyone in cc all the time.

We worked on this very topic recently with a client. They were never truly at email inbox zero (but thought it was ok) and were rarely at Asana inbox zero (they wanted to but couldn’t).

Regarding email, I managed to convince them that even if they have a handful of emails, visually scanning them several times a day actually takes a lot of energy. Once they reached inbox zero for the first time, and managed to keep it that way, they understood what they have been missing out on.

Regarding Asana, this turned out to be harder. They had structural problems, they were involved on too many things. They were also lacking a good system to structure priorities and goals. It took them weeks to get everything under control, but even today, the Asana Inbox remains a challenge, because of its lack of filter and sort options.

But the goal is and should still be to reach inbox zero whenever you can!

:mag_right: Conclusion: what do YOU think?


Thanks for this, I cannot more than totally agree. Zero Inbox is THE feeling after a while you like to have…non-empty inboxes always cause some kind of pressure there is something left you should deal with, and as you state it takes time to go over the emails/tasks again and again.
For emails there are so many techniques out there to manage this, I unsubscribe from whatever is not any longer of interest for me, quick things to answer I answer and the others I use Outlook Asana integration and create an Asana task and then either archive or delete the email.
For Asana, well, it is work management tool, work usually doesn’t disappear if you ignore it. So take a decision on each task in your inbox. You can control all task notifications, remove yourself from project notifications, task notifications, new tasks added to a project, etc whereever possible.
If you like to be notified about new tasks, fine, so you have an inbox entry, but then you are aware sth popped up and you can then remove you as collaborator and archive the task.
If there is something for you to do, either set a due date (if not already set), archive the notification and work with your ‘my tasks’ view.
You also have the option to bookmark the task and come back to it later, but this should be the exception, else you just move your inbox to the bookmarks view (like letting emails in your inbox you think you will come back later to them).
Better use the option to create a follow up task and use a speaking actionable title like “read that…”, “do sth on …” and again manage it in your ‘my tasks’ view, archive the inbox task.
The final challenge then is to really work efficiently with the ‘my tasks’ view as it should contain only the tasks you can action on, again there are many techniques out there (e.g. sort by do today, do this week, do later, or sort by priorities), you can check this each day before you leave so it is clear basically what to do the next working day. For the next day you can use time boxing, time blocking, focus time, etcpp.

1 Like

Inbox zero is something I always at least aspire to, if in practice fail at.
I fail not because I don’t believe in it, but it is normally just life that stops me - if I have 4 meetings that day, and only 2 hours in the office (a regular occurrence that I have no control over), or a hugely urgent project swallows up every second of my day and perhaps the next two, I just won’t have the (hours) that are required to tidy up.

So the problem for inbox zero for me, which is something I have never solved, is how to have an insurance policy in place that raises and hides tasks in such a way where once you get back to work you are not completely overwhelmed with a list that takes the day(s) simply to try and categorise, prior to even doing any real work. This is a constant issue for me.

Secondly, when you have multiple projects on the go, it is very easy for me to tick off the most pressing tasks, and ignore the ones deep down my list, weeks into the future that I should really be starting now. I have no idea how to adequately deal with this issue - I am not sure Asana really has a good solution for it either?

I believe until Asana develops a “smart Inbox” the only solution is to make sure we are non a collaborator on too many things. Triaging an Inbox is really quick, even if you have 10min you should be able to go through everything, without answering, simply assigning, creating follow-up tasks, assign tasks to yourself, bookmark…
But then the “mess” is in the My Tasks ^^

I bookmarked this answer, because I found it helpful.l however, 6 months on. I still find this the most challenging part of my workflow. Its something I actually tried to write a topic about before…
When does an email question become a task in asana, and when is it just an email?
I go through phases of

  • everything in asana, (but that can be slow, and is made harder by endless ping pong emails with extra mini tasks)
  • mostly replying and snoozing email, and bigger things becoming tasks (much quicker, and more intuitive, but I miss that kind of deep organisation that asana tasks provide)
  • A combination, but then I forgot quite what criteria to use for either… and it becomes messy.

Would love any insight. This problem just seems so hard for me to solve in a satisfactory way.

We never ever (ever) send each other email at work. I really don’t see any benefit when Asana is available :slight_smile:

The “quick” feeling you get with email is impacting your productivity I believe, and an Inbox notification is more efficient in my opinion.

Thankyou Bastien,

If I may ask, how would you work when an email with an outside organisation/supplier/manufacturer, becomes a “conversation” .

In my experience, you can very quickly end up annotating a lot in Asana that is resolved quite quickly in a conversational flow?

I do have several discussions by email, but I usually answer right away (and it becomes the other person’s “task”) or I create a light task just to act as a reminder.

thanks for your thoughts.
This is what I try to do too, but I do find it consistently the hardest thing to handle in terms of keeping track of information flow & project detail. Always great hearing other peoples experiences.

@thethirdtrack You mention not remembering “quite what criteria to use” for processes. I encourage you to document! Documentation for yourself can be such a help when trying to shift how you do things.

For example, I use color-coded book emojis in a particular project, to indicate what kind of group created the resource I’m adding. Using the emojis helps me see things quickly: is one color dominant, are there clusters, are there correlations between length and source? (This is all communications research materials).

In the project, I have a task with a key in the description. It has each emoji and what it means, in case I need a reminder, especially for categories that show up less often.

This is just a simple case of documentation, but it’s so helpful. And it helps anyone else that comes to the project. They can see what the colored icons mean, so they understand that green means news articles, purple means academic research, etc.