For this month’s article on organization strategies, we’re going to look at organization strategies for email management.
If you’re a busy professional, you are most likely receiving 100 emails a day or more. You’re also looking at a lot of content on a daily basis as well. Some of what you are managing is content which you need to do something about it right away. Maybe some of it is content that you need to do something about it fairly soon, but not right away. A small amount of the content you’re managing is content that you want to do something about it, but when you have time to look at it carefully. Most of the content, though, is stuff that doesn’t matter to you whatsoever. You need an email management strategy.
Let’s address all of these categories and talk about an action plan to manage it well.
We’ll start with the stuff that doesn’t matter. Get rid of it.
Throw it in the trash can, recycle bin, or hit the delete button . . . whatever you need to do to get it off your screen. This is the easiest part of email management. If you need to do a mass delete, most computer applications allow you to select multiple things when you hold the shift key down. I strongly suggest that you find out how to delete a whole bunch of items with a shortcut keystroke move, and do it often. Get it off your screen. You don’t need your brain trying to manage it subconsciously. Use that shift key and get rid of all of it.
For the things that you need to manage right away, I suggest that you create specific file folders in both your email management software (MS Outlook, Apple Mail, Google Mail, etc.) and your content management program.
Some popular content management programs are Microsoft OneNote or Evernote. I like Evernote for its robust keyword search functions and its excellent organization framework. I also like Microsoft Outlook as well. (And for you who are Apple Macintosh fans, I am one as well – and I do like the latest version of Outlook for Macintosh. We’ll talk about that software program down the road.)
Practically speaking, I address the immediate matters in my email inbox right away. I don’t put them into a file folder as I see them. I try to take care of them immediately. Otherwise, they’re going to be a nagging mess in the back of my mind until I do something about them. It’s important to make it clear, however, that there is a temptation to fall into the trap of focusing on “urgent” content, versus important ones. So what I do is choose to focus on the content that is urgent and important. If you’ve used a FranklinCovey planner, you’ll get it when I say that I address the “A” content and tasks right away. I figure out what I need to do with them – and then do it.
My first file folder I create is an “Action File” folder in both my email management software and my content management software.
This folder is for those things that I need to address soon, but not right away. These would be “B” content and tasks – stuff that is important, but not urgent. I make it a point to review this folder at the beginning and the end of the day. That way, I am not forgetting to address it, but I’m not dwelling on it.
The second file folder I create is a “Suspense File”.
This is content that is unimportant now, whether it is urgent or not. I would consider this as “C” content. The main reason that I’m keeping this content is because I think or know that it is going to be important at some point in the future. I’ll need to address it, but just not now. I don’t want to push that content away indefinitely, but I also don’t want to think about it right now, either. I review this folder on Sundays when I plan out the new week.
My third file folder I create is a “Fun File”.
This is content that includes fun or entertaining things to do or think about. When I get a great email coupon for a bowling deal that would be fun for my family and me, it goes in here. If I see something hilarious on the Internet and I want to share it with my friends at some point, I put it in this folder. My logic is this: life can’t be all serious, so I allow some fun for myself and my family and friends. I review it occasionally – at least once a month.
For emails that I want to keep indefinitely, I have a whole file system that is categorized by subject name. When I get an email that I don’t want to lose, I drag it to the corresponding email folder for that subject. Again, I don’t want to be thinking about anything, either consciously or subconsciously, that isn’t important.
When I review my email three times a day – in the morning, at noon, and at the end of the day – I work hard to move my emails into the right folders if possible.
In the morning, I may not be so diligent to address everything new that comes in my email box. In the evening, though, I really try to “clean up my desk” and get emails where they need to be. For me, I just like to have things sorted out and cleaned up so that I have things organized for the start of the next day.
On Sundays, I make it a point to complete a review process.
My review includes mission and vision statement reviews for my business and my personal plans. It also includes reviewing the previous week’s results and performance. Then I plan for the next week’s schedule and performance. Within that review process, I look at my emails and the appropriate folders. I make a point to schedule tasks to address those emails if need be, and then work on getting everything in order.
There has been a lot of discussion about when to check your email during the day. I like the system of checking it three times a day, but sometimes I check it more often. If I am expecting an email, I’m going to check it outside of the normal schedule. That works for me and it’s courteous to the sender.
However, I really try to avoid checking email when I’m supposed to be focusing on a person or a subject. Generally speaking, you’re not going to see me checking my email or managing content when I am meeting with a person or a group. That includes texting as well. When I am looking at my phone and it’s not for the benefit of the current conversation, it’s just not worth it. In many cases, it communicates the idea that whatever is on my phone is more important than who I am with. So it stays in the pocket.
How do you manage your content? Do these ideas give you some good solutions? Let us know! And let us know what you think would be some good articles in the future.
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