If you’re like most people, you read this tagline and said “yeah, right”. I promise you it’s possible. Sure it might be difficult at first, but with some diligence you can make email a better servant, rather than letting it become your master.
Before we begin, let’s agree on what email should be. It’s a communication device. That’s it. It is not a storage box, it is not a legal file, and it is not a task. You may not agree just yet, especially that last one, but stay with me for a moment and you might change your mind.
Now, if we momentarily agree on what email is and is not, we can more easily define a clear action plan for each new well-intentioned, if not annoying, chirp that signals the arrival of a new message.
The best advice I ever received on Outlook organization was this: don’t live in your inbox, you should only be a visitor. When it comes to the time you spend at your computer, you will get more value from your calendar and your task list. Your focus should be: Where do I need to be? ; What do I need to be doing? Emails will never give you a clear picture of these 2 things.
Emails, letters, voicemails. Treat them the same, action them the same. And that brings us to the 5 D’s of organization.
If the email in requires some quick action, just do it.
Maybe someone has asked you a question that requires a simple “yes or no”. If you can respond quickly, do it. Once it’s done, file it away, or delete.
There are 2 types of ‘file it away’.
1) Drag and drop it into your BMS if it’s a client related item.
2) Move to an archived folder for non-client related items.
My preferred method for archiving is to name a folder “xActioned” and use the MS Outlook Quick Steps feature to automatically move items there.
DELETE or archive
Not everything needs to be saved, or requires a reply.
Delete if it’s information you do not ever need to recall. Archive or otherwise file items that don’t require action, but you may want to reference later.
If you’re not the right person to take action, delegate to the one who is.
If you need to follow through on the delegation, you can flag the email for follow up, which creates a task reminder. Tasks tell you what you should be doing, not emails. If it’s relating to a client, that task belongs in your BMS, and follow up/follow through visibility is gained via management reports.
(Watch for our upcoming blog post on reporting!)
If the email requires some thought, consideration, research, and is not a simple “do” item, then you can “date activate” it by creating a task and giving yourself a deadline to take action.
This is a big one. It transfers the concept of taking action on emails to action tasks. If we’ve already otherwise done, deleted or delegated the “noise”, we’re left with a much smaller list of things that actually require our focus. And for that we should dedicate some time and a deadline.
This one is as much art as it is science. In our blog next week we will discuss task management. We will dive deeper into how to best set up your Outlook tasks, how to balance this with tasks in SIG, and what reports can be used to manage follow through.
This is my best, most pro-active piece of email advice. Don’t send it!
We have all seen that email thread go back and forth between two people that sit 3 desks apart. Sometimes, it’s more efficient to just walk over, or pick up the phone. Don’t hide behind email and contribute to the global burden of inbox terror. Most of us do it. It seems easier to send an email. But look at your inbox and I’m sure you can find examples of something that went on too long and could have been a quick conversation.
As you’re eyeing your inbox, don’t overthink which category each email falls into. Your gut instinct is probably the best one. Take 5-10 seconds to scan it and decide which of the 5 Ds applies. Do it, Delete it, Delegate it, Date activate, Don’t continue via email and pick up the phone.
Manager, Marketing & Solution Strategy