Inbox Zero: Inbox Currently at 100

Two weeks ago I started on a journey to Inbox Zero, using Merlin Mann's tips for managing your email. After living with the tips in practice, I'm...getting there. My inbox went from 222 to an even 100 messages. I'll explain a few of the techniques I used to get there, and what's next to get to zero.

Separate work and personal messages - I have long had separate accounts for work and personal stuff, but I have always read them merged together in a single inbox. The first thing I did was start using Apple Mail's ability to view each email account as an independent mailbox. This helped me focus on the personal email messages and manage them faster than the piles of work stuff. I also made the decision to forward only personal messages to my iPhone, which emphasizes the importance of actually using this mailbox for personal correspondence.

Set up a few filters - I get a lot of email messages from an automated bug tracking system as work -- up to a few hundred messages a day. Previously this all went directly into my inbox, which required constant triage to read and delete (or act upon) all of it. Even if I didn't need to act on them, the messages were sitting there, looking at me, asking for attention. By automatically filtering this stuff to a separate folder, it reduced the volume level in my inbox -- since these automated messages were no longer in my face, I was able to devote dedicated attention (Merlin calls these sessions dashes) to managing this particular kind of message in its own mode (which involves a lot of skimming and deleting). The unsurprising truth: I don't need to act on (or know about) this stuff right away. If I ignore it for a while, most of it will be resolved by someone else, and I can just review what happened later on. This saves my attention for things that do make it into my actual inbox, that need me. The lesson here: save your inbox for things that are actually your job; if you're just getting messages to be informed, put them somewhere else.

Don't check as often - I set my desktop email application to check for new messages every thirty minutes any my iPhone every hour (and I wish there was a two-hour setting). Previously the desktop was checking every ten minutes. This significantly increases the span of time I can spend working on a task without being interrupted by the "new mail" sound, and getting curious about what's lurking under that icon. A related principle here is turn off the email application -- just quit it when you're doing something focused. I have gotten pretty good at this. The scary thing is, when I come back I'll have thirty more messages -- but this is actually good, because I can deal with those messages on their own terms, rather than in the middle of my other important work.

Delete stale, non-actionable items - This is where I need to do more work. There are still scores of messages from six to ten months before that really aren't actionable. Many are links I'm supposed to read -- which can be filed in a "to read" folder -- and many simply aren't relevant: projects that fizzled out and probably won't come back. I need to get up the courage to delete (or in my packrat case, file) all this stuff, so it's not sitting there in my inbox making me feel guilty.

Perhaps in another two weeks I'll be closer to my goal of Inbox Zero!

If You're an Android User, Your Phone Can Now Filter Out Spam Calls Automatically

It's not just you: Robocalls to cell phones are out of control, and being on the Do Not Call list probably hasn't kept you from fielding multiple spam calls a day. Thanks to technology that makes spamming easier than ever, the FTC now receives four times the number of complaints about automated robocalls a year compared to 2009. But if you own an Android phone, screening all those relentless spam callers is about to get easier, according to Lifehacker.

A new update to Google's Phone app allows you filter out suspected spam callers with the press of a button. If you enable the setting, your phone won't ring if a known spam number is calling. You won't get a missed call notification, either. But, in case it is a legitimate call—or you just want to know who’s spamming you—the caller can still leave a voicemail. In the event that a robocaller slips through (as they surely will) you can also mark specific numbers as spam and block them.

Two side-by-side screenshots of the Google Phone app showing a spam warning and blocking numbers

To enable the filter function, go to the Phone app on your Android device, then click Settings and Caller ID & Spam. (Google's Caller ID function identifies not just people in your address book, but numbers already associated with business listings on Google.) Turn caller ID on, then turn on the "filter suspected spam calls" function.

And remember: If you do accidentally answer a robocall, don't answer any questions. It may be part of a phishing scheme to record your voice.

[h/t Lifehacker]

How You Should Be Spending Your Money, According to a Financial Planner

It would be nice if financial rules of thumb applied to everyone equally, but that's often not the case. People in different income brackets have different priorities, which is why telling everyone they should be spending a flat percentage of their income on necessities like food, housing, and transportation doesn't always make sense. In his book Rules to Riches, financial planner Mark Baird accounts for this variation by adjusting the common percentage guidelines based on income levels, as CNBC reports.

In some spending categories, the rules stay the same no matter how much you're making. Baird recommends that every household earning between $25,000 and $300,000 annually save or invest 5 to 20 percent of their income each year, for instance.

Other financial areas have more variation depending on how much money you're bringing in, though. If your income is $25,000 a year, Baird says you should be spending 18 to 23 percent of your earnings on housing. But if you make $50,000 or more, you should aim to spend 15 to 20 percent. In general, people earning lower salaries should set aside higher percentages of their income for food, clothing, transportation, and medical bills, while those earning more money should plan to spend more of it on taxes, insurance, and charitable donations.

As is the case with any spending-related guidelines, these recommendations shouldn't be taken as law. The money you put toward housing, taxes, and transportation will vary depending on where you live. If costs are especially high for one bill, see if you can cut spending in another part of your life. It's not the end of the world if you spend slightly less on charitable contributions than Baird recommends.

Check out the guidelines for households making $50,000 a year below. You can head over to CNBC for the full chart.

Taxes: 20 percent
Charitable Contributions: 10 percent
Savings and Investments: 5 to 20 percent
Housing: 15 to 20 percent
Transportation: 8 to 10 percent
Food and Beverage: 6 to 10 percent
Clothing: 3 to 5 percent
Furnishings: 2 to 4 percent
Personal Care and Cash: 3 to 5 percent
Medical and Dental: 3 to 5 percent
Insurance: 6 to 8 percent
Education and Self Improvement: 1 to 2 percent
Installment Payments: 3 to 4 percent
Entertainment, Dining, and Gifts: 1 to 3 percent
Vacations and Holidays: 2 to 4 percent
Miscellaneous: 1 to 2 percent

[h/t CNBC]


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