MailboxI’ve been using email since about 1990. In fact, I introduced it to the company I worked for at that time. You’d have thought that, with all that practice, I’d have got it right by now… but sadly not so! However, I have recently found a new way to handle it, which is working far better than anything I have ever tried.

Really?!

When it comes to email, I’ve tried everything (or so I thought) including:
Outlook, lotus notes, gmail, hotmail, windows mobile, blackberry, POP, IMAP, colour coding, printing them out, categories, setting aside fixed times every day to do email, working through the weekend… you name it… I’ve probably tried it.

So what’s the problem?

Every day, I receive 100+ new emails to add to the ones still sitting in my inbox from yesterday. Clearly, there are some important ones in thee but quite a few are just “spam” or over zealous copies (cc) of emails to someone else. However, to find the ones i really need to read… I have to read them all. If we say that each one takes an average of a minute to read (which isn’t true, because I read slowly and many of them are long and include attachments)… that would be 2+ hours gone… and nothing replied to! Worse, each one, important or not, could trigger 4-5 thoughts that take time to explore, act on or put down and get back to the inbox. That could easily double the time. So half the working say could be lost… nothing productive done… just processing email!

My solution

However, for the last 2 months I’ve been trying something new… and it’s working. The things I needed from the new system were:
Smaller inbox – Less email in my “inbox” view, so I don’t get distracted – ideally no more than one day at a time.
Flexible workload – Some days are just difficult. I need a way to handle the fact that some days, I can not get through everything – I need a way to store it an catch up.
Where did I put that? Some emails contain information that I will need access to until a task is complete – they can’t stay in my inbox – so I need a place to put them.
Diminishing returns – I receive too many emails to read them all in detail, so I have to prioritise. If I prioritise wrong then I will soon know… and may have to find the discarded email in a hurry. But usually, older emails are less important.

The new system requires four folders to be setup:

  • This Week
  • Last Week
  • Older Emails
  • Actions

So how does it work?

  1. I now keep one day of email in my inbox and try to clear it every day.
  2. At the end of each day I drag the contents (read or not) to my “This Week” folder, where it stays until the end of the week. That keeps my Inbox down to today’s correspondence only.
  3. If I have a difficult day then the following morning I can look at the This Week folder to see what I have missed.
  4. At the end of the week I drag the entire contents of This Week to a Last Week folder. That means that if I am having a particularly busy time the I have two weeks worth of readily accessible emails to hand.
  5. When I see an email that needs action, I drag it to the Actions folder. When I have rime, I review that folder and complete what is required.

So what?

Whilst this may not seem momentous, it has made a huge difference for me. I deal with high volumes of email, much faster and have a fighting chance of not missing key correspondence.

I hope this is useful.