Not Another Inbox – Dealing with the Proliferation of Inboxes in Microsoft 365

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Danny Ryan:Hello, and welcome to the Two Bald Brothers and a Microphone Podcast. This is your host, Danny Ryan. I’m here with Tommy Ryan. Hey, Tommy Ryan.


Tommy Ryan:Well, I’m back, baby!


Danny Ryan:What’s going on? You’ve been a little busy lately, haven’t you?


Tommy Ryan:I have. I have. That’s a good thing. Yes.


Danny Ryan:Yeah. Yes. Yes. Very busy. You sent me your what I did yesterday and what I’m doing today lists yesterday and it made me get on the floor and cuddle into like a fetal position and go like, “Oh”. Lot of stuff going on …


Tommy Ryan:Yeah. There is.


Danny Ryan:It’s good stuff. A lot of what? Jive migrations going on?


Tommy Ryan:Migrations, in general. SharePoint to Microsoft 365 and Jive migrations.


Danny Ryan:Nice. Nice.


Tommy Ryan:Very hot, very hot.


Danny Ryan:Great stuff. So I wanted to get together. Number one, it’s been a while since we sat down and did this, so just to spend some time talking about something that is near and dear to our hearts.  And today I’ve been thinking about … I’ve wanted to discuss this with you for a while, which is I always wanted to do a blog post called “Not Another Inbox.”


Tommy Ryan:Right.


Danny Ryan:And it has to do more with how do you manage all of the things going on inside of Microsoft 365? And this may be for more of a like a personal productivity standpoint. And let me give a little bit of background and then let’s just sort of talk about it, you know, brainstorm a little while, and see if we can come to any conclusions about what’s worked for you, what hasn’t worked. Maybe some challenges that exist right now with managing the over-abundance of information.  And so, let me see if I can set this up for us. One is, is we’ve, for so many years, we’ve been used to using our Outlook Inbox as sort of our way of information coming in and handling that information and using that as a tool for us, for managing what’s coming in to us. So then through the years, there’s been things that have come out that add another inbox to what we’re doing.


So, for example, you have Yammer and Yammer has an inbox. And then you have, you know, more recently the Teams and it’s not really an inbox, it’s usually people @ mentioning you, which is the same effect as having an inbox. It’s one of those things where you need to pay attention to something and to handle that something as well. And then there’s other things like, I noticed with Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn, there’s another inbox that’s in there. And so, you’ve got incoming things coming from that and then there are other things that are out there as well. We’re not using things like Slack right now, but that’s another place where you could have incoming messages.


You’ve got your whole Skype, where you could have people trying to get to you that way, through Skype or through Teams Chat and how do you handle … I mean, what do you do … I mean there’s a lot of ways that people now, it’s just moved from “Okay, before I could handle things through my Outlook Inbox, I could prioritize them, I could set up followups to them and now it just seems like there’s several different ways that you can get incoming requests from people and how are people … how do you deal with this?


Tommy Ryan:Yeah. I think that it is a challenge. It is yet another place to divert your attention and it’s nice to have simplicity. But also I think there’s … a wise person said a long time ago when we were working with folks at Jive, one of the persons that they hired as kind of a consultant to come in and think about … [crosstalk 00:03:51]


Danny Ryan:You’re not talking about me? Okay.


Tommy Ryan:No. No.


Danny Ryan:Okay. You’re talking about somebody else. I thought you were going to say something about that. I … don’t know.


Tommy Ryan:… is content is not king, context is king and I think one of the things that we’re seeing evolve around inboxes and around how to interact with people is to give context to that. And you know, what’s worse than an email that has no subject line? You know, it comes in and you’ve got to read, you know, the body of it to kind of tease out what’s in there, trying to understand is it important to me, do I need to pay attention to it? You end up getting cc’d on a lot of things and even on the “to,” if someone just replies to “all.”


And so, it’s great that we have an inbox and there’s mechanisms to control followup around that, but what I find to be more valuable as we see these other inboxes, is the context it provides. So, I am enjoying having interactions in Teams where there’s a conversation thread around a document, and that when that conversation needs my attention, it shows up as activity for me to go look at. But, if I’m not involved with that, but I’m curious about it, I can go peek into that and see that conversation thread, even though I’m not directly being pulled in to it. And I can’t do that with email. I can’t peek into other people’s inboxes to see conversations that might be beneficial to me to get context around information content. And so I think that’s very powerful, although it does create the challenge of yet another inbox and what Microsoft and other folks do is they realize that your final inbox is your email.


Jive tried to kill email. I remember [days back 00:06:02] said, you know, “Long gone are the days of email with this new social-business collaboration kind of platform,” and it didn’t kill it because I think the inbox is that final destination of the notification that, “Hey, there’s something there you need to pay attention to,” and Teams does a great job of, “Okay, it’s been an hour since this is @ mentioned you, let me send you a reminder in your inbox,” and if I want to have, “a centralized task management of did I look at something,” I can use that inbox as that cue to say I’m going to flag that so I don’t forget to go check on that. At the end of the day, you’ve got the read and unread within Teams, but it’s not as sophisticated as an Outlook inbox.


Danny Ryan:It’s almost like I’d want to be able to flag some of … like, I want to … some of them I read it and then I have something I need to do with it. So, how do I … I don’t want to not …


Tommy Ryan:Yeah, so that’s almost where in my inbox, I’ll flag it and I’ll say “unflag it for followup tomorrow or for next week or whatever.” One of my frustrations right now with Teams is I’ve got an inbox and I don’t have a way of saying “Okay, I’ve read this. I need to do something with this” and I can’t get it out … one of the fundamentals of task management is to have one place to go with all your tasks. It seems like you’re jumping from one thing over to another and you’re not able to, unless I manually go create a new task to deal with that thing that’s … [crosstalk 00:07:41]


Danny Ryan:Yeah, you love that maybe to-do could solve that problem.


Tommy Ryan:I’m gonna punch you in the face.


Danny Ryan:I would love it if I could share to-do with my wife at home.


Tommy Ryan:I think what you end up resorting to is something like to do [inaudible 00:08:00] or a Wunderlist or something that you hate it, you have to type it in, so if it’s really that important, you’re going to have to put it in a to-do that is your central to-do.


Danny Ryan:Yup.


Tommy Ryan:And another technique I’ve used is, things in Teams, it’s nice that if you go look at it and you didn’t “click on it” through the activity inbox there, if I’ve looked at it, it’s going to mark it as read over in the inbox and if I see something and I know I want to come back to it and I don’t want to create a task, I just right mouse click and mark as unread.


Danny Ryan:Yeah, mark as unread.


Tommy Ryan:Yeah, and that way it’s still out there. No one likes that bold unread inbox. It drives you crazy not to have the inbox read. At least me, I think that’s common for a lot of people that, some people have that zero inbox where they don’t want anything in the inbox, and I’m long past that. For me it’s nothing unread.


Danny Ryan:I’m a zero unread type. So, if it’s been read, then it’s been processed. I’ve switched over to that for years and it’s just … that works for me.


Tommy Ryan:Yeah, I do that too, and I use the flag for “you’ve got to this” within the next day or two or we’re going to miss the opportunity.


Danny Ryan:Yeah, and I agree, that seems to be the way of handling … what I like is you want to have whatever you’re using for task management to set priorities so that you’re focusing in on the right things. So the quadrant two things, in quadrant one and quadrant two, but it seems like the other inboxes, like you’re either using it, if it’s been processed, it’s been read. And, if it’s taken care of and you don’t need to address it, then it’s in a read status.


And I’m also talking right now as well, like LinkedIn. If your LinkedIn inbox that’s out there and if I don’t need to do anything else with it, it’s just been marked as read and I typically don’t do anything more with it. If I need to do something more with it, then I keep it as read and then maybe if it … probably you can handle it like the getting things done is, if I can do it in two minutes, do it in two minutes and take care of it. Or if it needs to be longer, then I need to mark it as an actual to-do item that follows into the priority of everything else that’s on my plate.


Tommy Ryan:Yeah.


Danny Ryan:And maybe that’s sort of the key point of yeah, the additional inboxes that are out there, you just work with them on a read and unread basis and then if it’s something that would require more time, then it needs to go into however you centrally manage your tasks.


Tommy Ryan:Right. Yup, yup, and that’s the way I do it, too. And another thing that I did … I’m looking at your whiteboard … is the things that are quadrant two. Really, really key, kind of that annual goal that you’re trying to chip away at over the course of the year and not lose sight of, I’m putting some of those things on my whiteboard, too.  And in the role of helping clients make those arrangements for us to do work with them, aka sales, I’ve got a matrix of some of those key ones that are out there that I feel like I’ve got to stay on top of that and if I leave it in the normal kind of arrangement of Outlook and Teams and files on my desktop, that I’m going to lose track of something. And if I have it on the whiteboard, it’s something that I peek up at, you know maybe once, twice, three times a day that, “Oh, that’s what I want as my next step there, or that’s where that’s sitting.” So mentally, I’m staying on top of the big rocks.


Danny Ryan:How, with regards to … do you check like … do you have your Outlook running all day long? Is it always there and always running?


Tommy Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Danny Ryan:So it is?


Tommy Ryan:Yes.


Danny Ryan:And then your … same thing with Teams? It’s always up and always running?


Tommy Ryan:Right.


Danny Ryan:Do you ever feel like you get to the end of the day and you feel like you’ve checked your email … you know, you’ve followed up with things and then maybe you’ve gotten … I have some days where I feel like I’ve followed up and I’ve done good at, you know, I had requests come through, but not sure if I’m really effectively using my day. Like, I’m wondering if I should have my email on for certain periods of the day and then have periods … oh, it’s almost like, yesterday I was trying the Pomodoro type of thing where I say I’ve got 30 min- I need deep work and if context is key, staying on one thing, like I’ve got a research subject and I want to focus in on this for the period of time, I find like, if I’ve got my email and it pops up and I see something interrupting me to go after it, it’s so tempting to jump off to it, to switch on that, and where I could never get into deep work, where I can just always be working on whatever that last email is, or whatever has jumped up for that day, but I don’t have the time to go after something where I’m thinking about, you know, putting some thought into something and not having the time to really do what people are calling deep work.


Tommy Ryan:Yeah, and for me it’s putting on the headphones so that’s a signal to people around me, because I’m in a room with other people and it’s also seeing a space in your calendar. And then, when I go into that deep work, I get pulled into what I’m doing and I don’t … even though I might even have email TOAST popping up, I’m not being really distracted by that because I am diving deep into something that I want to get to a certain point with it. I also use, and it’s VIP within my iPhone, that I can set certain people that are people I need to respond to quicker than normal and that I know that I’m rarely going to get an email from that person, and I want to make sure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of the hundred emails that come in. [crosstalk 00:14:55]


Danny Ryan:I have a feeling I’m not in this VIP list.


Tommy Ryan:It’s people that maybe email me, you know, three or four times a year and so I have some of those that I really want to catch and be very responsive to.


Danny Ryan:Uh huh.


Tommy Ryan:So, that’s just another technique that I use, because sometimes I can lose email, that it shows up and you’re clicking through and you forget to go back and mark it as unread, and that VIP to me, it pulls it to the top out of the, kind of the mess of a bunch of email.


Danny Ryan:Well this was good. This was helpful to me, so it’s hopefully helpful to the listener. Next time I want to talk a little about the state of … this is near and dear … the state of task management inside of Microsoft 365, and I can talk about how I’m trying to use Planner and what things I’ve been trying recently, and just trying to get … how do I manage this? And it might be for more of a personal productivity, but I’m also trying to figure out … one of the big things around here is make and keep commitments, and so like how is that we can do this with each other?


And right now I can send you an email and say I want you to … how do we have some place where we’re able to make and keep commitments and so right now I’m experimenting with what we have which is, and I asked this question last week to Mike [Gannonetti 00:16:36] and asked him about what’s the state of task management and he’s basically, when you’re working within groups, it’s Planner, so that’s fine. Tell me what … that is what it looks like it is and he had his normal response about what to do and his frustration, I’m sure, with it as well. He’s just using it personally, but like how do we do this within a group, and how do we … but there’s a part of it as well where I feel like I’m assigning a to-do to you, and how is it that we can work together and make commitments together? And what does that look like on Microsoft 365? And people have that.


And if that isn’t there, and if it’s you and I have been using to-do list and shared lists and stuff like that, what is it that people … it just seems like core to any business, is how do we as a team … how do we make and keep commitments together where there’s a place that you can go to and I’m relying on you for this, and you’re relying on me for this, and making those commitments. So if maybe next time we get together, if we want to talk about that?


Tommy Ryan:Sure, yeah.


Danny Ryan:Awesome.


Tommy Ryan:There’s more than tools. I think there’s some “process sure elements” to that, that could help.


Danny Ryan:Absolutely.  And I think today what was interesting is part of this is the process has to be light … it has to make sense and light-weight and something that’s repeatable because humans if left to their own devices, they go to very simple ways of interacting so that process has to be something that definitely works and has positive feedback cycles. But yeah, let’s get together next time and talk about that. This was interesting. This was helpful for me today, so I appreciate that.


Tommy Ryan:Cool, yeah. It was good conversation.


Danny Ryan:So, I appreciate the time to sit down and talk about the “Not Another Inbox.”


So the conclusion from this is really that everybody has their own, and it should be one central place where they’re managing tasks, so that they can set priority on them and really, you know, be able to make sure that they’re spending their time well. But with the additional inboxes, the additional ways that your information is coming in, it sounds like you and I use the read vs unread as far as whether it’s been processed and then based on that, you might use the two-minute getting things done rule, where if I can get it done in two minutes, take care of it then. If I can’t, then mark it as unread and either throw it in as a to-do into whatever you’re using for task management, or just leave it unread so that you can come back to it.


Tommy Ryan:Yep.


Danny Ryan:Cool, great. Thanks everybody for listening. Thanks for doing this Tommy.


Sure, sure thing.


Tommy Ryan:Have a great day!  Bye-bye.


Danny Ryan:Bye.


Additional Credits

Intro/Outro Music – Daniel Bassett

Danny RyanNot Another Inbox – Dealing with the Proliferation of Inboxes in Microsoft 365

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