We all receive lots of emails everyday. Do you keep them under control or are they endlessly filling up your inbox? If it's the latter, read on to learn how to deal with all those email messages. But first, let's summarize some interesting statistics from Microsoft.
- Fifty percent (50%) of your emails can be deleted or filed
- Thirty percent (30%) of your emails can be delegated or processed in less than two minutes
- Twenty percent (20%) of your emails can be deferred to your Task List or Calendar
Delete or File
Most of us are hesitant to delete emails in fear of losing the information included in the message. But, unless you hold the Shift key while deleting an email, it does not disappear forever. The message is transferred into deleted items folder and can be easily retrieved by dragging it back to your Inbox. Important thing to remember though is, that if you didn't need the message in the past six (6) months it can be deleted permanently. Make a habit of removing all emails that are older than 6 months from your Delete items folder. Schedule a recurring appointment with yourself for every first day of each month to do so.
Which email messages should you delete? Delete emails that:
- are in no relevance to your work or interest
- include a piece of information that can be found somewhere else
- don't have to be kept for legal or financial purposes
- do not require any action
Some of the emails you receive do not require any action, but have to be kept for a reference. Where do you keep them? In MS Outlook, Inbox is a folder that can include sub-folders. Hover above Inbox with the mouse, right click and pick New Folder… . Write the name for your new folder and click OK. You can create further sub-folders by performing the same set of actions while hovering above the newly created folder. This is how you create an email reference system.
Make sure to choose meaningful names for your folders and sub-folders for a quick reference. If possible, I suggest mirroring your computer filing system and your email reference system to your paper filing system. That means using the same folder names as in your physical file cabinet. This unity makes document retrieval very efficient.
Delegate or Process
Are you the person who should respond or act upon particular email? If not, forward it to the right person. After you've done so, you can either delete the message or move it to appropriate folder in your email reference system.
Here is a great rule of thumb from Microsoft. If you can process the email message within two minutes, do it. Reply to the email, make a quick phone call, or file the email if it belongs to your reference system. Some people suggest having the reading pane on; so you can instantly view content of the email. In my own experience, by keeping the reading pane off and opening the email message, you are increasing the likelihood of processing or deleting the email within those two minutes.
Create a task or Set an appointment
If you can’t process the email within two minutes, you need to allot a block of time to complete the action. There are two ways to do so.
Create a task
By flagging your email or dragging it to your Task List, you turn it into a task. It won’t have the same attributes as an independently created task item, but you will be able to assign which day it has to be processed. If you prefer creating independent task item, do so and copy the email into the body of your task for a quick reference.
Set an appointment
In some instances it is preferable to schedule an appointment with yourself by dragging the email to your calendar. As with any other appointments you will be able to invite your team members. Complete communication of the particular email message is conveniently transferred into the body of the appointment.
Tips that will keep you on track
- Schedule an appointment with yourself in the Calendar to process your emails and set a recurrence for this appointment. Frequency will depend on your particular situation, but once a day is the minimum.
- If you have a backlog of email messages, allot a 30-minute block of uninterrupted time a day to process those.
- Disable email audio alert. Click on the File tab and choose Options. New window opens, click Mail, which is the second option down on the left hand side. Under Message Arrival clear the Play a sound check box.
- There is a small chance your inbox will have zero email messages, but don’t let them grow to more than twenty.
- Do not jump from one email to another, start processing them from the top down or from the bottom up.
- Check your inbox several times a day to see if there are urgent messages that have to be taken care of right away. If there are not, leave the inbox and revisit it again during your email processing appointment.