This is the second part of our feature: How to manage email overload. We show you how to get organised in 21 days using a practiced and proven method.
Twenty-one days is all it takes to get organised. That’s how long it takes to form a habit.
In 2010, the typical corporate user sends and receives about 110 messages daily. Roughly 18% of emails received is spam, comprising both actual spam and “graymail” (i.e. unwanted newsletters, alerts, etc.) – The Radicati Group
Table of Contents
How to Manage Email Overload at Work
Email overload is frustrating. A full inbox is a distraction and will divert your attention from what is important if you don’t take charge and do something about it.
In this guide I show how to avoid email overload. This method is proven and works for me. Try it for 21 days and see if it makes a difference.
Get Organised in 21 Days
This approach breaks with traditional ways to manage email. The goal is to effectively manage email as it comes into your inbox. And, to do this effectively, your inbox shouldn’t be cluttered.
Okay, let’s continue …
8. Staying at Zero
With a little effort and determination last week you should have your inbox message count to zero. If not, take time now to empty your inbox (see Day 3 – Let’s Get Sorted.)
I have written How to Manage Email Overload for Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Outlook users since this is widely used in the business environment.However, the instructions that follow will help you get organised whatever email software you use.
And, if you’re still struggling to eliminate lots of messages simply focus on that empty inbox. I reckon you can get through 75 messages within an hour. Therefore, if you have 500 messages left you should easily be able to deal with them in a few hours.
Spending half a day to clear your inbox is a pretty productive way to spend a morning.
If you are struggling with more messages, work out their shelf life and go back to Day 2 – Top Down.
Last but by no means least stop monitoring your email. Turn off any pop-ups or notifications. From now on we only process email. Monitoring is a waste of time. Check and process two or three time each day.
9. Actions Folder
You may be thinking that you’ve only moved email from the inbox to the
Action folder. True to a point. But you shouldn’t underestimate the value in doing this. You have processed your inbox. That is, dealt with most messages first time and created a prioritised
Action folder has a series of prioritised (flagged) messages:
- High – High priority action,
- Medium – Medium priority action,
- Low – Low priority action, and
- Follow-Up – Follow-up (actions you delegated.)
Sort these according to flag colour. Group all high priority tasks together, followed by the medium priority tasks, and so on.
Most of us are living in an illusion that we’ll get everything done in one day. That won’t happen. The truth is that you’ll always have more to do than you have time for. – Sally McGhee
Now you need to deal with your
Since these are the things you can’t deal with in a few minutes I recommend you schedule time for them. You probably use your calendar to track and schedule meetings. Now use your calendar to prioritise and plan actions.
10. Use Your Calendar
Your Calendar isn’t just for scheduling meetings. Use it to prioritise and plan the work you have to do. Actions you’ve identified and prioritised when processing your email.
Transfer email from your
Action folder to your calendar. Doing this increases the chances of dealing with an action. Therefore be sure to honour meetings you’ve made for yourself to complete a task. Treat them in the same way you would have if the meeting request came from someone else.
When you’re done, open your
Action folder and change the message flag to completed (or simply delete the message.)
11. Housekeeping Tips
In last week’s lesson I said that folders were unnecessary and a waste of
time, and recommended that all your mail was copied directly to
_Copy Inbox. A better alternative is to use virtual folders or search folders. For starters create a search folder for each of your
Action flags: High Priority, Medium Priority, Low Priority and so on.
Virtual folders make it easier to locate messages by matching them to pre-defined rules. You can quickly find messages based on an email address, subject, key word, size, date, attachment and so on. And, because the search folder is indexed when first created the results are displayed quickly.
Another thing, start reducing the amount of messages you send. If you do this you’ll soon receive less email. It’s often better to use instant messaging, to pick up the phone, or get out of the office and talk to people.
Also, use the CC line sparingly — use only when the message has an impact on the recipient — and filter out unnecessary recipients when replying to messages.
12. Weekly Review
Okay, you’ve got through the second week. Hopefully you’re seeing a benefit and enjoy being in control of your inbox. As the weekend draws nearer I want you to schedule 30 minutes in your calendar for a weekly review.
Make this a recurring appointment and use it to check progress with your actions and to transfer tasks from your
Action folder to your calendar.
During this half hour you should think about the following:
- Planning next week’s work. Transfer tasks from your
Actionfolder to your calendar.
- Evaluate objectives in your
- Reflect on the past week. Did you schedule to much in a day? Did some tasks take longer than expected?
- Were some tasks time wasters?
The weekly review is an important activity and discipline that will help you improve your productivity and work-life balance. Therefore, endeavour to keep this appointment each week.
Enjoy the Weekend
Think how great it will be starting on a Monday morning with your inbox at zero and a prioritised list of actions. You are in control! Now you know how to avoid email overload.
How to Avoid Email Overload, part 3
How to Avoid Email Overload: Get Organised in 21 Days continues in Part 3.
Creative Commons image courtesy Arby Reed.