Taming the email Inbox

Marketing, PR, Technology — By on November 25, 2009 2:15 pm

Email_large Communicators use email. A lot. In fact, it’s not uncommon for email to
be the defacto means of correspondence with clients, media and the rest
of the team. Many agencies use group email aliases to simplify comms,
so it’s not uncommon to get over 400 emails a day. If each email takes
an average of 60 seconds to open, read and deal with, that’s over 6.5
hours of your day taken on email triage. Not good.

I am a big advocate of Inbox Zero. If you’re not familiar with the
approach, broadly it suggests you stop working from your Inbox, which
should only contain unprocessed mail. Everything else is deleted
(preference), delegated, stored or done (following the 2 minute rule).
I once routinely had 6,000+ mails in my Inbox which I used as a to-do
list (yes, that one people can write on). A year ago, I piled the whole
lot into a folder called Old Inbox, and started with a clean sheet.
Right now, I have one email waiting to be read, and a list of 43 others
which are active projects or will take more than 2 mins to reply to.

Here are a few tips I’ve learned which might help:

  • Create an Action folder to store emails which will take
    2+ minutes to deal with – mine is a sub-folder of my Inbox to keep it
    at the top. I put mail in there which needs thought or other action
    prior to response. It’s easy to find open actions, and at the end of
    the day you can transfer anything lingering to your To Do list.
  • Don’t have a fancy filing system – you’re probably not going to
    need it, and search/filter tools are good enough now to find important corrie you
    are missing. Pile, don’t file.
  • Don’t file your Sent Items – I’ve no idea why people do this.
  • Work Offline – I do a lot of work using the email program, but
    that doesn’t mean it needs to be connected all the time. Remember how
    much you used to get done on the plane before wifi? You’d reply to all
    those mails, unencumbered by incoming distractions, and blast them out
    in one go when you arrived. Offline is your new best fried for that.
  • Use Rules – for some reason, if you send an email to an alias you
    are a member of, Exchange decides to send it to you as well. Perhaps it thinks you have a short memory. To
    overcome this, you can set up a Rule to Delete all email which you
    yourself have sent. You already have a copy in your Sent Items after
    all. I know others use Rules to file newsletters or forum discussions
    for later consumption. It’s easy to set them up. Easier than you think.
  • Unsubscribe – sometimes we end up on mailing lists and get
    blasted with such frequency we almost stop seeing those emails. ‘Oh
    that’s just the Crate & Barrel special offer newsletter again’.
    Well, if you’re no longer in the market for that product or service,
    take 20 seconds to unsubscribe. Invest in your future email serenity.
  • Don’t send emails – many emails are conversations. If you don’t
    initiate or participate then you tend to get less mail. It’s a
    Sisyphean task if you keep sending them, you’ll never get to the top.
  • Keep at it – it’s easy to fall behind in crunch times. The Inbox
    expands again and you’re back to old habits. When this happens, and it
    will, just go Offline, work through them and get back to zero. Or if
    you don’t have that time, dump them into a folder for processing later
    and tackle anything new from then so you stay at zero. It’s ok to
    falter, just don’t let it put you permanently off track.

I hope this helps. I’d love to hear any other tricks you have – color
coding, smartphone triage etc to keep your Inbox tamed. Meantime, good
luck.
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