Productivity tips: #1. The 4 D’s will help you reclaim your inbox!

For just about anyone on this planet, time is always a challenge, so many things to do, so little time.

I personally felt that I was wasting so much time and feeling constantly stressed due to my weak personal organisation skills. My mailbox was filled with thousands of read and unread mails, which I tried to filter through, or occasionally archived in some sort of structured maps, often failing.

Each time I had to search for something in my inbox, I knew that it was going to be a nightmare. I did check my mails constantly but didn’t really file them, I just left them open in my inbox…

Needless to say, that some mails weren’t answered on time and some to do’s were late, and so on. The chaos of my inbox made me feel constantly behind schedule and mostly unprepared.

To tackle this problem , I started doing some research on productivity hacks, and started reading GTD (Getting Things Done by David Allen) related items, way back in 2002.

Explaining how this book changed my life today is impossible within the constraints of 1 blog post, but honestly, good personal organisation is so easy and reliefs a ton of unwanted stress.

In this post I will restrain myself to accentuating a certain productivity aspect that is a true cornerstone in my personal approach to GTD.

A few tips first

Tip 1 | Check your mail max. 2x per day

I see a lot of people with their mail program constantly open, checking every so often if something new has been delivered. If you try to compare this with how we handle our mailboxes at home, this may seem like a very awkward behaviour. Just imagine walking to your mailbox every 15 min., opening the mail, and then putting it back in the mailbox…

This is why I only check my mails two times a day, when I start the day, and at 2pm. I do not open my mailbox unless I have enough time to clear it completely, which takes maximum 30 mins ( sometimes it takes just 5 minutes).

If you check your mail, inbox zero is the goal.

Tip 2 | Turn off mail notifications

Mails are never “urgent” that’s why we have phones, if it’s urgent they will call you, or text you… Believe me, urgent news always finds a way to reach you.

So, turn off these notifications as in reality they distract you and constantly being interrupted will certainly diminish the quality of your work (and while your at it, turn off most, if not all, notifications of the other apps as well, you will thank me later!)

Tip 3 | Optimise your mail’s filters to minimise newsletters and spam

Most mailprograms have these filters and some of them are really good. Check your mail software to see how you can optimise these filters. Also, Unsubscribe from newsletters as much as possible.

Sorting through your mail using the 4D approach

Although I apply this method to just about anything from emails to messages, conversations, ideas, websites, I will limit this post to the mail inbox conundrum.
As you will see, this method really simplifies the inbound part of getting things done and gets you organised in no time.

For every mail you get, one of these actions apply:

Do Now

This one is easy. If I get an email that takes less than 2-3 minutes to execute, I do that immediately, done is done. (i.e. Dear Nicolas, could you please send me the presentation you gave last week.), Once I have executed the task I delete or archive that mail.

Do later

When the action required takes more time, I put it in my calendar. If it’s less urgent, I add it to my to do app and execute it when there is some free time available. Once I’ve planned the action, I delete or archive the mail.


When the content of an email requires action from somebody else, then I forward that email to them. I try to be specific about my expectations (i.e. could you please finish this task and keep me updated, or even better, give a deadline). My mail program provides a “snooze” button, that will show the email again at a time of my choice, so I can keep up with the task and make sure it gets done. If your mail program doesn’t have this function then set a reminder in your calendar, make a to do, or flag the mail and then delete or archive it.

Delete (or archive)

If a mail requires no action or if you are not sure what to do with it, delete it or archive it for later references. Under no circumstance leave it in your inbox. 80% of our mails are deletable and not clearing them is the biggest reason we feel overwhelmed by our inbox. The feeling of relief you will get once you start clearing them will surprise you. I am a very addicted “deleter”. Over time, I’ve learnt that there is no reason to hold on to all of my emails. All the information is widely available on the internet and I never need it again anyway. I know a lot of you are afraid to delete stuff, you never know, right? Well, make 1 folder, call it “archive”, and dump it there. The search functionality in your mail program will easily find whatever you need in the archive. But believe me, you’ll probably never need it!

Having a clear inbox is step 1 to getting things done and optimising your time. It also gives you a great feeling of being back in charge of your organisation.

Beware, some discipline is required!

Growing new habits takes time and some discipline. Studies have shown that it can take 3-6 months before a new approach becomes a habit. So stick to the plan, and if you fall off for a few days, just restart, you will get there eventually and it will bring you a lot off relief.

Now I have to add a to do to my list: Productivity tip #2: Take regular breaks!

Nicolas Acou

International Commercial Product Manager at CCV

With a strong/long experience driving large international digital projects and implementations, Nicolas is responsible for the development of our new digital customer platform – MyCCV. With the CCV customer 100% in focus, Nicolas and the development team are working on making it as smooth and easy possible, to be a CCV customer