We should all want to spend more time focusing on our customers/constituents yet nearly all of us find ourselves mired in the swamp of our email inboxes. When I have dozens of emails in my inbox I tend to spend too much time searching for the one I need and sometimes lose important emails in the morass.
For the past several years, I’ve practiced Inbox Zero, the concept created by Merlin Mann. My goal is to have my inbox completely empty every day when I leave.
Treat Your Inbox As A Runway, Not A Parking Lot
I flag emails requiring later action, and then move them to a folder. Every morning I review my flags and add those that need to be done to my “Next Actions” list for the day.
If you travel frequently, it’s more difficult to achieve inbox zero. After a recent 3-day business trip, I was inundated by emails. Monday, I had some extra time as I ate lunch at my desk, so I decided to empty my inbox. Seventeen minutes later, those emails were either deleted or flagged and filed. (After a week long vacation, it may take me several hours on the first day back, but I’ve found it’s well worth it.) Just as an airplane would be an impediment if left parked on a runway, I find emails sitting in my inbox function in the same manner. Moving them out of the inbox actually increases my productivity even though it takes a few extra seconds to flag and file them.
Create A Rule
I also subscribe to a variety of newsletters. The problem is these create distractions for me when they land in my inbox. So I recently went through and created rules which divert them straight into separate folders. Each is labeled “Newsletters—(Name of newsletter.) In most email platforms you can tell if you have unread messages because the folder will be in bold and a number will be placed next to it. I go back and check these when I have downtown such as at lunch or when I’m transitioning from one task to another and want to take a quick break.
Diverting to another folder helps me in two ways. First, I’m not distracted by the email popping into my inbox. Second, I’m not tempted to stop and read it when I should be focused on something more important. This technique helps me stay focused and allows me to spend more time on what’s truly important.
Most email platforms such as Outlook and Lotus Notes allow you to create rules. I use Lotus Notes and I can go to “Tools” then “Create Quick Rule” with the email open and set up a rule. The tool also allows me to create a new folder right then if I need to.
In summary, create rules to divert non sensitive emails into other folders. Consider using flags and folders if you’re not already doing so.
Follow me on Twitter. I’m txglennross