I follow almost everything in this post except for the starring. Instead, I do the following:
* If an email requires action and it is fast, I do it now, then archive.
* If an email requires action but will take longer than a minute, I keep in my inbox (but read). I clear these emails out once per day.
* If an email requires action but I can't because I'm blocked by some outside factor (waiting on something for example), I use followup.cc and redirect it back to me in a certain amount of time, then archive. When it comes back to me, I use followup.cc again if I'm still blocked.
Being forced into the next email in your inbox upon archiving the last, instead of back to the threadlist does wonders for keeping you in processing mode instead of constantly presenting you with the inbox.
The other is "Send and Archive":
This removes the second step of having to mentally re-process and archive a thread after you've already sent a reply to it.
While you're in labs you should probably enable undo send too if you haven't already.
Why? because it means I don't feel the stress of having to zero something out. Sure, the more unread stuff I see, the more I know I'm backlogged...but I find it handy to see recent emails toward the top... and that's what leaving everything in the inbox does for me.
I admit when things get crazy at work, Priority Inbox works well for my system.
Overall I doubt any good comes from these loose email practices. I may have acquired business style email use earlier in life from the freelancing so I may not be considering their situation.
When an email comes in I never leave it over a day to respond. Just two days ago I got into a real-time email conversation with someone trying to compile my open source project. I invited him unto gtalk and solved the compilation issue in <5 minutes. Had I taken longer to respond he would have gotten bored long before he could become a potential contributor.
I know people that archive all mails and do respond slow in general and people that respond fast.
I also never saw what archiving an email should achieve. Having it unread is archived enough.
My work account however is organised into folders, I normally just leave items as unread until I've replied or am finished with them, then they're archived into folders.
When you're looking at starred messages, you know that a) you've already read the message, and b) there's an important task you need to do. Your job is to remember what you wanted to do and get it done. When you're in your inbox, you know that your seeing new information and your job is to decide whether or not its important.
This distinction may sound trivial, but it makes a huge difference. Think of it this way: When you read a message and then mark it as "unread," you're throwing away all the work you've already done in reading and evaluating it. Next time you encounter the message you're starting from scratch. By starring it and taking it out of your inbox, you give yourself enough of a cue to quickly resume processing the message where you left off.
Things you don't want to see again should absolutely be archived. But if you're using the Gmail web interface, you don't have to slavishly adhere to a literal interpretation of "inbox zero".
What is important is limiting the distraction caused by new mail. If you're working through your todo items and new messages are getting added to the list, they'll distract you even if you don't read them. Of course, you probably will read them, which is even more of a distraction.
By keeping todo items on a separate list, you can keep your attention on your work, rather than on new messages. Then you process the inbox only when you choose to direct your attention to it.
The shortcuts in the post are a huge help. I always knew they were there but never thought about how they would work in a process as described in the OP. I'm going to try using the web UI with those now instead of Sparrow.
For inbox management, they preached the '4 D's' of inbox - Do, Defer, Delegate, Delete. It works quite similarly to what this link is describing, though including delegation helps include the managers who need to dish out work to their team. I've always found this to be a pretty powerful tool, and it seems many of my managers use it too. We've found that it's helped them get a hold of the 'inbox noise' they often get bombarded with, given the overuse of CC.
It's a lot of work to set up, but I encourage everyone to try one of these approaches. Blocking out a chunk of your time and burning through emails without any time spent on each of them is a really liberating feeling and helps deliver this zen-like focus on your other tasks. I think it's the fact that you're structuring your entire work schedule by doing it which helps so much.
This strategy probably has variable utility depending on one's role in an organization: triagers and connectors between groups may not be able to use this as successfully, for an individual contributors -- like me -- it seems to work.
This only works in organizations with reasonable email hygiene where:
* People don't expect you to respond to something where you are not in the To/CC list
* People don't use expanded email aliases as opposed to more typical mailing lists.
This strategy is not unlike how one deals with being subscribed to large mailing lists like, infamously, LKML (Linux Kernel Mailing List) people can just ignore stuff and read at their leisure.
Honestly it does feel a little bit liberating :-)
I don't care for the large "everything else" list, it's just the latest stuff i got for a quick look, that's ok.
The first two lists are far more important and always contain only a few items that are worked through.
So in the end i guess everyone has his own best workflow but i also think that the gmail team did a pretty good job with the current design.
Hint: the only thing i really hated was the "comfortable" design theme that became the new default.. Luckily it's just a click away to get to the "compact" version, much much much better!
I've been casually learning Ruby over the past several months, and was inspired by Mailbox to hack together a very rough snooze feature independent of the app. The Ruby app hooks into special Gmail labels and causes emails in those labels to 'resurface' to the Inbox if certain conditions (mostly timing, e.g. the 'Tomorrow' label resurfaces emails at 10AM the next day) are met. It will take some time to develop the snooze workflow, but I like the system so far. An independent snooze function also has the benefit of letting me continue to use Sparrow to manage my email on iOS.
My recent favorite is http://emailga.me (NB: gmail only)
The combination of timer count-down, smileys and 'rounds' is rather clever. And more importantly: effective.
This doesn't help with the paralysis induced by longer emails that deserve an equally thoughtful (read: time-consuming) reply.
For those I pick up the phone. It's retro, but saves time in many cases.
We should fix it. E-mail can be the input, but there's got to be a better way to organize it so that it's not an input overload. I've got some ideas...
I do both of these, but I have my phone set to only notify on priority inbox and I only use priority inbox for family.