You may know me. My name is Don. I have an e-mail address. For many years now I have had to come to terms with the sheer volume of e-mail that comes my way. This barrage is a love-hate relationship. I simply love to get email, but I hate processing it.
Over the past several years I have developed a series of habits that keep me sane and prevent me from being a slave to the inbox. I am still looking for a better solution, as is the nature of the idea of evolving, but for now I am fairly happy with the steps I have taken and wish to share them with you.
First, I come in early to work almost every day. I do this so that I am able to process e-mails from the night before. E-mail for me fall into 4 categories:
1) Things that need me to do something NOW. The word now is important, as it sets the tone for what I am giving myself permission to do, or not do. (This is Key!) If something is a now item, it should be done at the moment that I read it.
2) Things that I need to do, but not now. I will note this as a task (if not time based) or add it right then to my calendar (if time based). Task based may be something like: Call Mom. (Everyone should do this as a normal task, as often as possible.) Time based would be an appointment that needs to be met.
3) Things that are interesting, but I do not want to deal with now. I will move this to one of several folders based on the type of data it contains: personal, research, follow-up, etc.
4) Things that should never come to my attention, ever again. (Think: SPAM!)
In each case, 1-4, I am left with an empty in-box. I do not leave things in my inbox. I always move them to one of 4 types of folders. These are: Customer Folders, Time Folders, Later Folders or SPAM/Trash. The goal here is to have zero emails in my in-box when I am done. It is an in-box, not a fester until the end of humanity box!
The other thing that I have done that speeds my processing is to create filters for anything that comes at me more than once. These filters can move items to my High Priority (Time) folder, or if it is coming from a particular person it may move the message directly to their folder (Customer). This is also very useful if you have “that one person” who is infected with the need to send you jokes or pictures of monster trucks. I like jokes! I do. But I pay people like Jeff Dunham to make me laugh, not “that one person”.
And, here is the most important thing I do. I close my out my email system when I am done processing my emails. This means I am not distracted by something New and Shiny each time a message comes in. I even uninstalled my message indicator so that I am not alerted to new emails. This took discipline. But this habit also allows me to focus on the task that I am working on at the time, not on cute cat stories. (No, I do not care that you just posted something awesome on Facebook. If it is important I can look at it on my iPad, later.)
It is important to separate things that are important from things that are immediate. From personal experience I can tell you that there is an attraction to watching the inbox for things to do. It makes me feel like I am doing something. (And usually not the thing that I should be doing.)
By implementing discipline into the way that I deal with e-mail I have found myself to be much more productive and focused. The key here is to choose several blocks of time during the day to again process e-mail. Think of it like eating. If you take a block of time to go to lunch you are able to plan what you are going to eat and discipline your calorie intake. If you eat at your desk all day long, well, you will get fat. Shed those e-mail pounds by exercising some good data practices with your inbox.
Don Raleigh is President of Evolve Systems. We appreciate and rely on Don for strong leadership, direct communication and unique perspectives.