Once again, I would like to welcome Lauren Halagarda as a guest author on Unclutterer. I hope your enjoy her advice on the e-mail detoxification process.
Are you overwhelmed by the amount of e-mail in your inbox? Do you have difficulty keeping up? Do e-mails get lost in your inbox? Here are some secrets that will help you take control of your inbox and manage your information overload.
First and foremost, you need to change your mindset about the purpose of your inbox. My definition for an inbox is: a location for temporarily holding incoming mail, whether it is paper-based or electronic. The inbox should not be a “forever home” for your incoming mail, rather, it is an intermediate step in an effective e-mail (or paper) management system.
Once you decide to stop using your inbox as a to-do list, database, filing cabinet, tickler file, contact management system and calendar, you can then tackle processing e-mail much more effectively. Here are the questions you need to ask yourself when processing your e-mail.
Does the e-mail contain an action? If not, do you need to retain the information contained within it? (Be generous with your delete key.) Most of the e-mail we receive we never refer to again — experts say the number is close to 80%. If you can find the information in the message elsewhere, delete it. If it contains details you need such as contact info, transfer that information to your address book or contact management system. If it contains event information, transfer it directly to your calendar. If it is resource information or data that will help you get work done in the future, find an appropriate storage location for it. If you do need to retain the e-mail itself, deposit it into storage. (Preferably into ONE reference folder. I labeled mine “processed mail.”) If you use Gmail, use the archive function.
If the e-mail contains an action, can someone else take care of it? Delegate it. Once you delegate an item, you may still need to follow up on it. In that case, add the follow-up item to your task list.
If it is something that you need to do, can you do it in 2 minutes or less? Do it now. But be honest with yourself about how long it will take you to complete, if you are still working on it 20 minutes from now, it doesn’t qualify.
For those items that require action or cannot be delegated or done within 2 minutes, you may need to do it later. Create an item in your task list to identify the very next action required. Make sure you are not creating a task that has pre-requisite actions. For example, if the task is “go to the office and get parking permit.” What do you need to have in order to obtain the permit? The pre-requisite task may be to gather your original registration and copy of insurance.
Obviously, e-mail processing is just one of the components to an effective action management system, but it is a key foundational element in capturing and identifying tasks so you can move them from To-do to DONE!