Over the years I’ve applied the principles of time management to emails. As a result I usually only have 10-20 emails in my in box at most times. Here are some suggestions that might work for you. They assume you are using Outlook!
A: Don’t Let Email Interrupt You
A big time waster is constantly checking emails, interrupting what you were meant to be doing. It isn’t hard to stop this. Discipline yourself to process email at certain times of the day, you may wish to turn off email notifications if you can’t ignore them.
B: The three types of email.
There are only three types which need managing in different ways.
- Information emails are probably half of what you receive each day. These emails just need a reply and nothing else
- Action emails represent a task, either directly or indirectly. If you have to do anything besides hit the reply button, it is an action email. This type can create stress and waste time.
- Reference email is anything you need to keep and is best filed in a separate, searchable folder.
Look through your emails and you should be able to spot the three types.
C: Sort your emails – focusing on Action items
I sort my email several times each day, dealing with each email quickly there and then into Information, Action or Reference, deleting Junk mail along the way immediately.
Put all of your Action email, things that you still need to do, into a separate folder so you can quickly get your email inbox sorted and clear and so that you can track them. I do this with an email folder called “@Action”. The @ forces it to sort to the top of your email folders, making it easy to find. Any email you don’t sort there and then and generates a “I need to…..” thought is probably an Action email.
Information emails need a short response, and are then deleted, or if really important stored in a folder. Any longer than a minute or so, then they are an action and need treating as such by putting in @Action folder.
Move reference items into a folder or structure of folders. But only ones you really need to keep!
D: Manage Actions
Use the features of Outlook to structure your actions. First set up and use categories. I have categories such as @Mark-Action for my things to do, @DR – Person A for something I am asking a direct report to do and @Mark-Boss for things I need to do for and update my boss on. And a few others.
Then schedule your actions using the Follow Up feature. Once you have done all this, they will appear neatly sorted by category in your task list. Use this list to track your tasks.
E: Empty your Inbox
Ideally empty your inbox to zero several times per day. It’s a great feeling not wading through a large inbox time and time again. Initially, clearing your inbox may take a bit of time, but it will be time well spent, since it will give you a complete view of all your lurking email tasks. I very rarely get there, but can usually get down to below 20.