I’ve been an organization nut for years. When I got married, I was the most unorganized dork in the world. I didn’t keep anything, lost (I prefer the term "strategically misplaced") most of what I did keep, and had stuff stacked all over the house. To say that I was a disaster was a nice way to put things. I needed help.
After getting my finances under control (boy did THAT take some doing, and a lot of self control!), I began using the Franklin Covey Time Management System in the early ’90’s. That, of course, translated into PDA’s and Pocket PC’s when they came out, and the rest is history. However, one of the things that gets away from most everyone is their e-mail inbox. I’ve seen people with, literally, THOUSANDS of messages in that one folder, and I have no idea how they find…anything. If you’re looking to master your e-mail inbox as part of your New Year’s Resolutions, check this out…
1. Install a Good SPAM Filter
One of the biggest problems with managing e-mail inboxes is the sheer amount of mail that some people get. My pocketnow.com e-mail address gets about 300-400 pieces of mail a day. 95%+ are SPAM, and can simply be deleted. Filtering good mail from bad is tough sometimes. Having a SPAM filter installed will make it easier to sort the wheat from the chaff. Check your filter often to insure that nothing is getting stuck that you would want to get through. If your work e-mail is a problem, then make certain that you check your company’s SPAM policies, programs, filters, etc. to make certain you’re getting the mail you should.
2. Touch Every Piece of Mail in Your Inbox
After the SPAM is gone (or greatly reduced), you need to touch ever piece of mail in your inbox and do something with it:
- Reply and Delete
Reply to the thread as quickly as you can and then get rid of the note. When you do reply, only include those people that need to see your reply. Be succinct, and/or pick up the phone. e-Mail is a communication tool and should not replace a phone conversation or a quick, in-person conversation.
- Reply and File
Reply to the thread as quickly as you can and then get it out of your inbox and into a different folder if you just can’t bring yourself to delete it. See above for recommendations on replying.
- Mark it for Future Action
Outlook gives you the ability to Flag notes for action. If you can’t reply to a note now, mark it for action later with a reasonable alarm time; and then respond at that time. Do NOT reset the alarm. Act on it before or at the reminder time; and then file or delete the original note. If the e-mail in question causes an emotional response in you, you might want to mark it for future action and let yourself cool down. Responding to something while you’re angry isn’t a great idea, and can cause more trouble than you think. By all means, write the e-mail now if you must, but save it as a draft and then come back to it later, reread and review it before you press, "Send." You’ll thank yourself later.
I’m an e-mail packrat. I keep everything. However, my inbox is usually pretty empty. I usually set aside a couple of hours ever morning to reduce the amount of mail in my inbox. I follow the above for those items that haven’t been dealt with immediately. After I am done, my goal is to have less than 20 pieces of mail in my inbox. The goal is zero (which I normally achieve). That way, I only have today’s mail (or no more than 2-3 days for those items that may take a couple of days to follow up on) in my inbox.
3. Avoid Forwards
If I had a nickel for every forward I’ve received I could retire and buy Bill Gates’ house in Redmond. Jokes and videos are fun, kids; but honestly, most of those get deleted out of my inbox. I simply don’t have time for most of them those that DO get read often follow these rules:
- Summarize the Message
Tell me why you’re sending me this cutsie thing before I actually see the cutsie thing. If you tell me why I simply must drop what I’m doing and look at it, I’m more likely to do that than not. Most others will simply get deleted.
- Only When Necessary
Please only send me cutsie stuff when you KNOW I will want to see it. Sending me all of the Irish Good Luck stuff simply because you thought it was cute won’t get it read. Please only send me things I’m interested it. If I really need to see it, check the bullet above and tell me why.
4. Use the Tools you Have
Most e-mail clients have a number of different productivity tools to help you manage your inbox. Use them. The fewer items in your inbox, the more organized and on top of things you’re going to be. Be disciplined. Follow these guidelines. Use filters, folders and rules. Set reminders. Set out of office auto-responders. If people really need you, they will get a hold of you, and the chaos that is your inbox will be greatly reduced.
I’ve been following these rules for years, and I can say without a doubt that I rule my inbox. It doesn’t rule me. I can get over 150 legitimate e-mail messages at work a day; and I normally only have 10-20 items in my inbox at 9am every morning. Working this way makes the job a lot easier; and makes managing personal e-mail a no brainer.