Articles & Tools: Inspiration

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Keeping an empty inbox

I'm a huge fan of simplicity, freedom and getting things done -- my productivity plummets when I feel disorganized or have too much on my plate to decide what to do next. So I've embraced the empty inbox, turning Gmail into my ultimate to-do list and making my days more focused and productive.

The concept: everything in my inbox is an item that requires my immediate action. A question from a client, a bill that needs to get paid, and so on. As soon as I respond to it, it goes into my Gmail archive. As I take care of each item, my inbox dwindles, and before I know it Gmail is a thing of beauty: "No new mail!" It's simple, refreshing, and encourages me to address everything on my list -- if something's cluttering my inbox on a Friday, I might as well get rid of it so I can be a free man for the weekend.

Want to give it a try? Here's how to dive in:

  1. Archive everything. I know this seems like jumping off a cliff to some of us -- I had hundreds of e-mails in my inbox when I took the leap. Just close your eyes, select all and click "Archive." It's all still there for you, just a search term away.
  2. Attack your spam. When I got started, I was on more meaningless opt-in lists than I'd care to remember. Every time mail from an opt-in list hits your inbox, turn that into an action item too: unsubscribe! And if you find a couple lists that actually add value to your life, they'll be all the more unique when they come in.
  3. Hit the labs. Switch on the Send & Archive button in Gmail Labs. It adds a new button that sends your response and immediately archives the conversation -- essentially a "mark as complete" button for your inbox to-do list.

For more on empty inboxing, check out these posts:

Classics: My Favorite iPhone App

There's no shortage of poetic waxing out there about iPhones, e-readers and the future of the book industry. I've downloaded an e-book or two in my day, and I'm known to occasionally curl up with a paper book. But today, I'm a convert. The iPhone Classics app has turned me into a reader.

Just as the iPhone dramatically changed my music and camera habits, Classics has changed the way I read. Before the iPhone, I never carried my iPod or a camera, but wrapping it all into one piece of hardware that's always in my pocket means I'm taking more pictures and buying a lot more music on iTunes. Likewise, I rarely set aside time in my day to read -- but now that the iPhone puts it at my fingertips, I can conveniently fill my downtime with a book.

There are lots of iPhone books out there, and the library is rapidly expanding. Classics, though, takes a unique and brilliant approach -- the app packages 20+ classic, public-domain books in a single app that costs just 99 cents $2.99 (they've raised the price since I bought it). For less than a buck, I've read Dickens, Verne, Kipling, H.G. Wells, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Hound of the Baskervilles, and I've got lots more in my future.

Here's the key: the value of Classics isn't that it's digital; it's that it's always a tap away. The dedicated e-reader (or paper book) is like my dedicated camera and iPod -- if I'm going on a long trip, I'll bring them along, but they're not part of my everyday life. Books on the iPhone allow me to read as effortlessly as I check the the time (the cell phone replaced my watch long ago). My high school English teachers would be proud.

Check out the Classics app, and head over to Project Gutenberg for tons more public-domain books.