Following on from my earlier post regarding the difficulties of managing email for dyslexic professionals, I discuss below some of the techniques that I use. Most of them revolve around three principles:
I can’t read everything… so I need to make sure that I read the things that matter. Secondly, I need to get things out of my inbox as fast as I can… so I don’t get distracted by a mass of unread mail. Finally, I am slow at composing replies and unreliable at filing… so I need to automate as much as possible.
My approach is currently…
I’ve tried a range of things with “mail rules”. Both Outlook and Lotus Notes offer them. However, in the end I have settled on a few simple things:
- Reports sent by email – I receive a lot of reports by email. Things like timesheet reports, job profitability reports, expense reports, management dashboards etc. I need to know where they are but I rarely need to look at them when they arrive, so I have set up mail rules that capture them and file them in a consistent place… so I always know where they are and can look back over historic trends.
- Corporate communication overload – As with many organisations with a “matrix” structure, I receive a lot of communication that relates to areas in which I have an interest but that I have to regard as “optional”, after the core business has been attended to. These also file themselves but disappear automatically after 30 days – as they tend not to have relevance after that.
I use rules to change the background color of emails from senders that I reduce the change of missing important messages. Currently, I colour code them:
- Clients – I don’t want to miss emails from clients so colour coding helps;
- My PA – I’m lucky, my PA will often spot things that I have not and send me a note to remind me that a meeting has been re-arranged or that I have not replied to an email. Colour coding lets me spot these reminders quickly.
- Key colleagues – Working with a professional services environment there is a short list of key people whose emails I never want to miss. Probably no more than 5 people at any time.
I’ve tried it all. Complicated structures with a place for everything… one folder with everything in it, and everything in between. I can’t say I have this one right yet but what I am currently trying is:
- Folders for the reports that my mail rules file
- Folders for the internal communication emails that my mail rules automatically file
- Folders for my current clients – that I put all emails in that relate to those clients (internal and external)
- A folder for other things that I have finished with but am not ready to delete
That means that I can keep my inbox relatively light and usually find things.
I periodically “unsubscribe” from the numerous email lists on which I find myself – if I haven’t read it for a month then I probably don’t need it.
I archive everything. Sent items and received items. That way, if I miss something I can always go back and find it
I use a Blackberry. It has three advantages for me:
- Delegating action during days where I am mostly with clients or tied-up in meetings – so I don’t end up with more to do than is possible at the end of the day.
- Working on trains, in planes and generally extending the number of working hours.
- Marking emails for archiving – may sound odd but the small screen seems to avoid me being drawn in to the content and lets me make rapid dispassionate decisions.
When not to do email
I write by editing… and editing… and editing. That takes time, so knowing when to stop and when to accept that the message is close enough is an important skill. I’m getting there. But still working on this one!
I try to delegate responding to emails where appropriate.
PA or Secretary
I have, from time to time, found it very helpful when someone else reviews my inbox as well. I do miss things and they often catch things for me before they fall. Another helpful feature is that inboxes often become cluttered with trails of emails that document a conversation – I have found it very helpful when the earlier emails are archived and I am only left with the most recent part of the trail.
Constructing a replying
I often use a mind mapping tool to construct complex emails but I’ll talk about that in a separate post.
This is snapshot of my current approach I’m sure it will evolve further over time and as the tools for managing email change.