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We are so busy all of the time. Too much to do, too many meetings and definitely too many emails. Our inboxes have become our default screen when at our desk, and we seem to spend more and more of our time trying to just stay on top of the deluge of noise, conversations, requests and actions. Work comes to us in many ways – by phone, paperwork across our desk, interruptions, meeting actions. But we tend to get more emails that any other form of incoming work. My belief is that if you want to ensure you are spending your time on the work that will make a real difference in your role, you have to get on top of your inbox. If not, you may end up spending your days in a busy, but ultimately unproductive state.
Reduce the Noise
If you are getting more than 30 emails per day, you are probably getting some level of noise mixed into the emails that actually add value and help you do your job. Spam, junk, marketing, newsletters, system notifications and even emails from your colleagues that are just…well, noise. To reduce this, try the following strategies:
• Use your Junk email filter to block emails that you do not want to receive
• Use email rules to auto-file informational emails into your filing system
• Delete decisively. If it is not relevant, get rid of it
Keep it Simple
Once you have reduced the flow of incoming emails, next you need to think about how you store them. We all feel the need to keep emails, usually ‘just in case’. That is not a problem. It is how we keep them than can be the problem. In my experience, most people use complex, multi-level filing systems with folders for every topic they have ever dealt with. If that is you, it is slowing you down. It takes too long to file emails into the right folder, and it also takes longer to find them again when you need them.
Do yourself a favour and cull your filing folders to less than 10. Decide on the nine most critical folders for your role, and add to that a general filing folder for everything else. Instant time saving! And if you want to get really ninja with your filing, consider just using one folder for everything. Just make sure it is not your Inbox, as we need to clear that to zero…
Process to Zero
When I run training, possible the most enjoyable moment in the day is when participants get their inboxes all the way down to zero. At the start of the day they don’t believe it is possible. The secret is to treat your inbox like a post box. It is simply where you receive emails. It should not be used as a to-do list or a filing system. It should be cleared to zero at least once per week.
When you process your emails, be decisive. Delete what you don’t need. File the things you are finished with, but feel you need to keep. Delegate anything that is not a good use of your time. But most importantly, schedule your actions into your task list or calendar rather than keeping them highlighted in your inbox. This will give you greater control over the action as you will be managing the priority within the context of your time.
Your inbox is an important tool, but it should serve you, not the other way around. Get it organised and you will find that you will start spending less time in your Inbox and more time doing the real work.
Dermot Crowley is a productivity thought leader, author, speaker and trainer. Dermot works with leaders, executives and professionals in many of Australia’s leading organisations, helping to boost the productivity of their people and teams. He is the author of Smart Work, published by Wiley. Email him here.