The Shortwave Method

What is the Shortwave Method?

The Shortwave method is a 3 principle approach to achieving and maintaining inbox zero.

  1. Start with triage
  2. Get your work in order
  3. Automate your workflow

Core to the Shortwave Method is treating each email like an action item rather than simply a message. When you reframe email as a list of action items, your relationship with your inbox shifts – each time you open your inbox, you are entering “triage mode” – allowing you to remove the emotion associated with decision making, and instead categorize your mail into actionable sections.

The Shortwave Method was built around the ‘Getting Things Done’ framework (GTD) – a methodology that systematizes the clutter and brings impending deadlines and due dates out of your brain and into order. One of the basic assumptions of GTD is that your subconscious isn’t very good at thinking about things you should do, and instead you should rely on tools you trust to hold this information.

We’re constantly bombarded with new ideas, requests, and next-steps all day, every day. Without a structured approach, it’s literally detrimental to our ability to make decisions. The Journal of Health Psychology published that American adults make 35,000 decisions a day, which hinders our ability to make good decisions.

“The phenomenon known as decision fatigue, describes the impaired ability to make decisions and control behavior as a consequence of repeated acts of decision-making. Evidence suggests that individuals experiencing decision fatigue demonstrated impaired ability to make trade-offs, prefer a passive role in the decision-making process, and often make choices that seem impulsive or irrational.”

What GTD and the Shortwave Method do is provide the foundation to take in incoming tasks, organize and store them in a logical order, and prioritize them accordingly. When you manage your inbox with Shortwave, you’re trusting the tool to keep your backlog under control - it isn’t going to “forget” when something else takes your focus. This allows your brain to release cognitive load and anxiety - allowing you a higher level of creativity, innovation, and productivity. You’re ready to get work done.



Start with triage


a decision tree to help decide how to triage new emails

The Shortwave Method begins with cleaning up shop. Start by taking your existing inbox and going through a triage process to work toward inbox zero. Most people that use the Method start their work day with a triage, many also do this a few times throughout the day.

The goal of triage is to categorize your email. As Colter Reed said, “even if it’s actually your job to process email, you still want to get in, get out, and get on with your day.” The point is not to do all the work immediately, but prioritize the work so you know what important thing you need to do next.

No action: mark it done

When you process your inbox, ruthlessly clear out emails that do not require action – just like a desk covered in old post-it note reminders, keeping old emails around induces decision fatigue. Any remaining email in your inbox should actually require your attention.

Shortwave’s most prominent action is done because it’s the most common action users are taking to clean up their inboxes. Bundles provide a significant benefit here by grouping together automated senders like SaaS tools, which often are just notifications and don’t require action (smash that all done button!)

Shortwave supports both done (also known as “archive” on other platforms), and delete. We prefer done because it reduces anxiety around “what if I need this later?”. Everything you mark done is easily accessible via the done page and shows up in search results. Some choose to use delete for things they know they won’t use later (for example, promotional emails).

Why done, and not mark as unread? Marking unread is a common pattern in email — but it’s an inefficient way to track your work. It’s too easy to forget to take action or to open something again, and lose track of tasks. Instead of marking threads as unread, ask yourself: “can I mark this done?” If you can’t mark it done, Shortwave offers two solutions to cut through the noise: snooze and pin.

Action later: snooze

As you triage your emails, you’ll run into things that do require action, but don't require action right now. This is where snooze comes in. If you need to take an action on a specific date, or need to follow up later, utilize snooze.

Rather than keeping these messages in your inbox, we recommend an “out of sight, out of mind” approach. When you set an explicit snooze time for a message to return, you are preventing things from slipping through the cracks — no more emails moving further down the page while you wait for the right time to respond, only to actually be forgotten. Snoozing remediates that anxiety by sorting action items to a later date.

Shortwave's snooze menu with natural language input

Time is your most precious resource, and Shortwave is built to help you use it most efficiently. Snoozing an email isn’t like snoozing a morning alarm, you’re selecting a more efficient time to take an action. When you use snooze, you’re trusting the tool to do the remembering for you – you’re actively giving yourself back some brain power so you can focus on what needs to get done today, and today only.

Immediate action: pin

As you triage your inbox, you will run into things that require action today. These are the items you pin. Pinning threads moves them to their own section at the top of the inbox. This keeps to-dos prioritized even as new emails enter your inbox, so you never lose focus on the tasks at hand.

Shortwave's pinned section showing two emails and a bundle

We like to use the “2-minute rule” from the Getting Things Done framework in our triage process as well. When encountering an email that does require a response or action, if completing that task will take less than 2 minutes, just do it (and then mark it done)! If there’s a task you need to do today, but it'll take more than 2 minutes, pin the email instead of handling it immediately.

How we use triage

The Shortwave Method (and GTD!) generally encourages the principle of “only touch each item once” during triage - this means when triaging, you would process your inbox line-by-line, marking items that do not require action as done, completing tasks that take <2 minutes, snoozing tasks for later, and pinning tasks for today. By doing this, you avoid making prioritization decisions multiple times on the same item.


Get your work in order

Pin, snooze, and done allow you to narrow down your inbox to actual tasks that need your attention. Once that is done, you should prioritize your tasks before diving into work.

Prioritize your action items

After doing a full triage of your inbox, you should have a (relatively) tamed list of action items in your pinned section. Before starting deep work, we recommend prioritizing these from most to least important so that you start with the most critical work first.

inbox

Shortwave was designed with the Method in mind and has the prioritize step built in. In your inbox, you can drag and drop emails into any order. Reorder your pinned section based on urgency, size of the task, or whatever other prioritization makes sense for your workflow… because we know that sorting by date doesn’t always make the most sense. Because you can reprioritize based on your needs, you’ve reduced cognitive load - less time spent rereading your inbox, reprioritizing your to-do list, and remembering what you wanted to do next. Do it once, don’t think about it again.

Contextualize your tasks

Grouping related tasks together gives you an extra layer of organization, reducing cycles burned on context switching. Research has shown that our brains have a very limited capacity for quickly assessing and recalling information for a specific task. Using our working memory is vital to actually completing whatever work is on deck.

Context switching often results in mental fatigue — that horrible sensation of having to reread an email four times before you can actually comprehend it. While some level of interruption is normal during the work week, excessive context switching can lead to consistent pressure, ultimately resulting in burnout. It’s important to set yourself up for success with a sustainable workflow to avoid these types of unhealthy patterns.

Shortwave to-do bundle with cursor in the \'Add note\' field

Shortwave has a feature called to-do bundles built to combat this exact issue. When you drag-and-drop threads together, they create a to-do bundle. You can add a note to the bundle for easy reference, and prioritize it alongside your other emails. We like to group related tasks together using to-do bundles so that we can batch process whenever possible. For example, it’s often easier to work one project or client at a time so you don’t have to context switch during deep work as often. Adding a note to remind you why the messages are grouped takes even more information out of your head and onto the page in front of you.


Automate your workflow


Two-by-two chart comparing importance and urgency of action items

One of the biggest benefits of using Shortwave is that you become organized by default. But (and this is a big but!), with a small amount of effort, you can use Shortwave to streamline your productivity by tailoring your inbox to fit your exact workflow. Fear that you’re missing important emails leads to spending more time in fuller inboxes with less critical information. You can make your triage process even quicker by telling Shortwave what needs special attention, and what can be deprioritized.

Apply magic labels

Shortwave has some pretty powerful features built on top of labels. First and foremost are magic labels. When you add a label to a message, you can set the label to automatically apply for that sender into the future. We recommend this whenever you find yourself labeling particular senders with a certain label a lot - for example, by client or project. Some Shortwavers also use this to add extra information in the inbox, like tagging all of the emails from investors with a bright color label to make sure it always catches their attention, or using magic labels to denote emails from the engineering team versus the sales team in their inbox.

Email with label applied and toast text stating emails from the same sender will always have this label applied

Customize label settings

Labels can be used to filter what hits your inbox even more.

  1. Auto-bundle low-priority message - Any label can be set to bundle automatically, taking up only one line in the inbox. This takes up less cognitive space and enables you to mark done, pin, or even snooze the whole group together when you’re triaging. Shortwave comes with a set of built-in labels for the most common use cases (think: finance, travel, newsletters, social), which we recommend using - apply these labels as relevant emails come through your triage process and they will capture all emails from those senders over time. This same behavior gets really powerful when applied to your own magic labels - creating fully custom bundles in your inbox.
  2. Set unimportant items to skip inbox - Senders and labels can be set to “skip the inbox” by setting send to inbox to off. This means that when you receive mail from that sender / label it will immediately go to the done page. We highly recommend turning this off for anything you can that you know won’t need action, but you might want to reference later (these items still appear in search!).
  3. Customize your push notifications - Shortwave comes with a pretty strong set of default push notifications located in settings. You can further customize these by label or by sender. For particularly important projects and individuals, set those push notifications to on. We like to turn off all other notifications. Reducing unneeded distractions helps give more uninterrupted focus time to get deep work done.

Favorite labels and contacts for quick access

The sidebar is a place to access your most common searches. This makes them easy to access and prevents you from duplicating search queries over and over when you need to reference previous threads. You can favorite a contact, a group of contacts, or a label.

Contact page is shown with favorite button highlighted

It's time for a change

The Shortwave Method can make you a more efficient communicator and streamline your workflow, saving you time and energy. Ultimately, this method is about quickly processing and prioritizing a large volume of new messages without being overwhelmed.

This might be a fundamental shift in your relationship with your inbox, or simply a fine-tuning of your existing practices – but it’s a step toward a more productive you. Part of Shortwave’s mission is to create a tool that helps people build better email habits. If you’re ready to improve, sync your Gmail account with Shortwave for free and get organized in minutes.

Sign in with Gmail