Checking, reading, processing, replying to, and stressing out about e-mail can all be sources of clutter in our lives. And, according to a recent Fast Company article written by Gina Trapani titled “Work Smart: Conquering Your Email Inbox,” processing e-mail might be taking up half of our workweek:
A 2008 survey at Intel showed employees receive 350 emails per week on average; at Morgan Stanley, employees get 625 new messages per week. Executives’ incoming email volume was much higher. In some cases, workers spent 20 hours a week just dealing with email.
Trapani suggests in her article to create three folders to keep e-mail from cluttering up your time: To-do, Wait, and Reference. To use them:
If the message is a task you’ve got to complete–like a request from the boss–file it into your To-do folder, and add it to your to-do list. If the message is about something you’re waiting for–like a package shipment notification or a promise from a co-worker to get you something by next Tuesday–put it in your Wait folder, and maybe even on your calendar. Everything else–the CC’s, the FYI’s, the “just thought you should know”s–file these in Reference. That’s your library of email that you can search any time to look up information you might need later.
In my opinion, the most important parts of this system are “add it to your to-do list” and “put it … on your calendar.” Treat e-mail like regular mail or as if there is someone standing in your office making the request. This type of attention can go a long way in keeping e-mail under control. Be sure to check out the article for additional tips.