Professional Organizing Tips and Resources.
Do you have more than 100 unread emails in your inbox?
Are invitations for events you want to go to lingering in your view too long?
Is there someone important waiting for you to reply to them on a key project?
Does the thought of your email inbox stress you out so much you have resorted to ignoring it?
I know what it is like to find an inbox piling up and what that feels like. Mine too starts to fill up fast at times and takes a bit of my effort to clear out. I work to empty it each day, yet sometimes I can’t quite get to 0 and end up with about 3-5 unprocessed emails. If I have anymore than that left over for more than a few days I start to get pretty antsy.
I expect that your tolerance level for the inbox is different than mine, yet, no matter how many emails you can comfortably hold in your inbox, if you find that you are stressed out and you want to get it down or empty altogether for sanity’s sake, here on some of my best tips as to how to go about the process.
What you’ll notice as you start clearing out the emails is that even though many of them may hold some value for you, in the way of great tips (like this one) most of them will represent ‘other people’s priorities’.
Getting things cleared out is not going to be about setting up any fancy spam filters, rather it will be about making quick decisions about what ‘needs’ to get done, what ‘could’ get done, and by when. It also means clearing out the things that have no value, little value and or do not require your action.
Let's get started...
The first thing you need to do is schedule uninterrupted time to process and organize email.
You need to be able to focus and decide clearly when processing. Don’t worry, you can still scan your inbox during the day for any urgent messages, but don’t be a slave to it for everything that comes in during the day.
Set aside about 1 hour of processing time for each 100 emails in your inbox.
The good news is about half can usually be deleted, about 30% could probably be delegated or completed in 2 minutes each, and the roughly 20% remaining may be deferred to your to-do list or calendar to complete later.
If you have thousands of old emails to process it is going to require some blocks of time, yet the good news is most of them will probably just need to be deleted or filed at this point.
Get comfortable with the sorting features in your email program. You can use options like ‘Sort by sender’ or filters depending on your email program.
For all the newsletters you receive consider creating a folder for them to save for ;ater reading. Take time to access them when you do get to review them later and take a few minutes to delete the ones you never get to.
While you're processing email, like anything else, be sure to make clear and fast decisions using
the ‘4 Decisions’ method
Read and process things you need to act on, and delete or file those you don’t.
It is best to handle things only once rather than keep reopening emails or conversations without taking action.
Decide now to either ‘Do it, Defer it, Delegate it, or Delete it’
Ask yourself, "What specific action do I need to take?" and "Can I do it in less than two minutes?" If you can, just do it. You could file the message, you could respond to the message, or you could make a phone call. You can probably handle about one-third of your email messages in less than two minutes.
Can’t delete it or do it in less than two minutes, or delegate it? Defer it and deal with it after you are done processing your email. Either turn it into an actionable task, or turn it into an appointment.
If it must be done, yet not necessarily by you, you could forward the email to a team member who can take care of the task for you. When delegating be sure to be clear about outcomes and deadlines and do it right away. Compose a clear message to the recipient in about two minutes. Then either delete the original message or move it into your email reference system and set a reminder to check in to see that it is being done on time.
Be honest with yourself about how much information you keep that you don’t ever use. Ask yourself; Does the message relate to a meaningful objective you're currently working on? Does the message contain information you can find elsewhere? Does the message contain information that you will refer to within the next six months? Does the message contain information that you're required to keep?
If not, delete it.
To help you stay on top of the important stuff, consider setting up folders to file resources and references in as well as ‘Action’ folders based on priority levels and deadlines to make things easier.
(Here is a small section of my own as a sample)
My suggestion is map out what main key folders make the most sense for you and your needs.
Keep categories broad and consider your long term needs before making these.
A little time planning will save time later. Also thing about clarifying when and if you will be archiving emails and how and where those will be stored.
Your email program is also going to affect how this is done as well as how you manage your email to a large extent.
Using Outlook vs. Gmail means things are stored and sorted in different ways and knowing how your system works is very important to you setting up a system that will work in the long run.
Check out these resources to help with either Gmail or Outlook:
Microsoft at Work: Empty your inbox
Gmail - 6 Tips for Gmail Users
Enjoy that ‘Zen Like’ feeling that comes with an empty inbox.
Relax knowing that you are doing what must be done, getting to what should be done, and clearing out the rest.
Want a hand?
If you find it overwhelming and need a hand to process your full inbox and get it to a manageable state so you can get back to what you do best, call on a professional organizer to help.
Need help organizing? Michelle serves the Carleton Place, Lanark County and Ottawa areas.