Over at the blog, Life Changing Time Management. Guaranteed., there’s a blog post called “Email Time And Task Management which lists five principles of e-mail management. There are some good suggestions there, especially when it comes to categorizing the types of e-mail into three categories.
I’d like to improve on one of the suggestions. Rather than set up an [Action] folder as described, consider using flags. Both Outlook and Lotus Notes allow the use of flags. Let’s say that an e-mail requiring action arrives in your inbox. It’s important, but not urgent (Quadrant 2 as Stephen Covey would describe it.)
When I receive these, I quickly determine if an immediate reply is needed, not necessarily responding with the data, but just to let the sender know that I can and will meet the deadline. Sometimes it’s necessary; sometimes not. The question is whether or not I can offer better internal customer service balanced against the time it takes me to respond and whether or not the sender would appreciate a reply of this sort.
After deciding that, rather than moving the e-mail to an action folder, I first flag it and, if necessary, I’ll put an alarm on it to remind me the day before its due. But I usually don’t. I review my flags every morning and add the task to my “next actions” list if I’m going to work on it that day. I then file the e-mail in the appropriate folder (assuming it needs to be retained).
The advantage to this method is that I don’t have to go through and clean out an action folder or refile the original e-mail. It’s already in the correct folder. To me, this saves me a few seconds per e-mail.
As I mentioned in a prior post on this topic, about handling e- newsletters, I practice Inbox Zero.” My philosophy is that my inbox is a runway, not a parking lot. This works well for me since I don’t travel a great deal, but for those of you who are on the road and in the air for much of your work week, it may not be practical.
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