Tawsha and I live on opposite sides of the United States, so a huge portion of our business communication is done through email. If you know either of us personally, you know we love what we do, have an idea a minute, and we do a lot of talking. This creates a ridiculous amount of work-related email. Then there’s the non-work related emails to each other, personal emails, subscription emails, …well, you see where I’m going here. Reading and processing 100+ emails a day left us little time to actually get any work done. We needed to find a solution. After some trial and error, we finally arrived at a system that really works for both of us.
Everyone uses email communication differently, and we all use different email programs. Although we use Microsoft Outlook, you should be able to use our process as a basic guide no matter what email program you use, and just tweak and adjust it where needed to make it work for you.
First of all, lets quickly clean out your inbox…
SEARCH AND DESTROY!
Your best friends are your Search and Find tools in your email program. Most of us get a lot of the same email notices that gunk up our inbox, like when someone repins your Pinterest pin. In Outlook, if you right click on a message, you can click the option “Find All From Sender”. It will pull up every message in your inbox from Pinterest. You can then click delete all. You could also type “Pinterest” in your email search bar to get the same list. Just repeat this process for all the messages you get a lot of…Facebook, Hometalk, your mom, that annoying person who forwards you jokes, etc, etc, etc. This is a great way to clear out a chunk of emails quickly. After you’ve cleared out as many as you can that way, you can then just individually go down the list of what’s left and delete them one by one.
The first time you completely clear out your inbox, it may take you awhile, but after you’ve done it this one time, if you follow our system below, you shouldn’t ever have to do it again. Do it, do it, do it! It will feel so good to have an empty inbox, even if you had to give up a Sunday morning to do it.
Now that you’ve finished, lets get you organized!
1. RETHINK THE PURPOSE OF YOUR INBOX
Think of and use your email inbox the same way you do your mailbox at home. Personal mail is delivered to your post office box or home mailbox around the same time each day. You retrieve the mail from your box, quickly scan through it, throw away the junk, respond to anything urgent or time-sensitive, then separate and distribute what’s left to it’s proper place. Right? After you’ve retrieved your mail each day, your mailbox is empty. That’s the goal we’re after for our email inbox.
2. RESTRICT YOURSELF
Determine how often you’ll check your email each day. Keep yourself to a time limit. Stick to it! Set a timer. As we discovered, email can become a huge time suck. Example: You roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, and open your email. You don’t feel like working, you’re nice and cozy, and you click on the Wetpaint Bachelor recap link your friend included in her email that you have to read. Once your done, (if no other stories catch your attention), you go back to your inbox and open an email from Michaels. They’re having a 50% off sale!! You’ve got to see if that scrapbook paper is on special…. An hour later, you haven’t responded to any work emails and you’re totally unprepared for the Skype meeting with your client who’s trying hard to focus on your cute sweater and not drop their eyes to the pajama pants below it. Ugh.
We process email three times a day and limit our time to 30 minutes. Make it known that you only check your email a few times a day, and if anyone needs your immediate response, suggest they send you a text or give you a call.
3. ADJUST ALERTS TO AVOID DISTRACTIONS
Turn off your audio and visual alerts. Some people have their social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest set to notify them by email when there is activity on their account. Most email programs offer visual or audible alerts to notify you of incoming email. Alerts are also available for your phones. So…if you have all these alerts activated, you’ve got yourself a whole lot of dinging, vibrating and notifications goin’ on that are screaming for your attention! If you’re tired or working on an extremely boring project, I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t take a lot to distract me and be checking out those incoming emails.
If you’d rather not turn your alerts off, another option is to change your email settings to only receive emails at a specific time, say during your lunch hour, or after your workday. Or… turn your automatic send & receive option off, which gives you complete control by allowing you to manually send and retrieve emails at times that are most convenient for you.
4. CREATE A FILING SYSTEM
Our goal is to empty our inbox. To accomplish that in the time we’ve allowed ourselves, we need to have someplace to efficiently organize those emails. We need to create folders. Just as our email inbox is the same as our mailbox, email folders are the same as the file folders in our filing cabinet. The number of folders you create and what you name them, is totally up to you. All that’s important is that you create an organization system that lets you quickly move emails from your inbox to folders that make sense to you. They can be simple:
- Need to Reply
- Read Later
- Add to Calender
- Meeting Notes
- Upcoming Seminars
During each of your allotted email times, try to delete, respond or file your emails as quickly as you can, and with any of your remaining time left, visit any “need to reply” or “read later” folders you’ve created and process as many of those as you can. When your time’s up, GET OUT!
5. MAKE IT A RULE!
Most email programs let you create “rules”. Based on options you check, an email will automatically be sent to a folder you choose as soon as the email is received. For instance, I subscribe to some yarn and crochet newsletters. I don’t want them in my inbox because I don’t have time to read them during the day, and I also want to keep all my craft patterns, etc in one folder. I first created a folder named “Crafts”. I then created a “From” rule for each of these email subscriptions. So when I receive an email, like “From: Yarnspirations” it is automatically sent to my “Crafts” Folder. My OCD loves this because it keeps my inbox clear of emails that could easily distract me, and sorts them neatly in their designated folders for me to read when I’m done working. They are really, really easy to set up.
And that’s how it’s done.
Get to it…PURGE, PURGE, PURGE – you can DO THIS!