Staring at your own full Inbox will tell you that managing eMail is probably the one job you spend the most time on every single day. It’s enough to make us all crazy and it was making me crazy until I did something about it.
The challenge in my business is that I have a number of different email address accounts, all with different messages flowing into my email manager, each relating to a different purpose and aspect of my business. Thinking it would be a big help to have all these accounts go into separate folders, I set up rules for every possible scenario you could imagine and sure enough, I had email messages going into folders all over the place. Trouble was, it soon became entirely too unwieldy to be of much practical use to me. I could never manage it all because it was just too overwhelming, and finding anything specific when I needed it became a near impossible task.
If you’re finding that managing your daily onslaught of eMail has gotten out-of-hand, you might try organizing your email manager the way that I’ve done it. Please feel free to modify this system to suit your own style, but be warned: i t is very easy to OVER-organize your email system — just the way that I did — to the point that it becomes nearly impossible to keep up with.
This guide is assuming that you are using some sort of eMail Manager such as Outlook on the PC or Entourage on the Mac, that allows you to sort email into folders, change colors for categories, and so on.
My main goal is to always have an EMPTY Inbox after each time I check email.
In addition to the usual folders you’ll find in your eMail Manager, such as your Inbox, Sent, Junk, and Drafts, I set up a few new folders:
Then, using a Rule for each of my email addresses, I assigned a color and/or category designation to each one so I can readily see them when they’re all in the Inbox together. All suspected Junk email goes directly to the Junk Folder for reviewing later and is not in my regular Inbox.
Get a handle on eZines
For starters, I get a LOT of eZines and eNewsletters and marketing email from a variety of sources. (You probably do, too.) Granted, I don’t always have the time to read all of them, but I like receiving them because it keeps the sender in my awareness. I may want to work with them in some capacity some day and I don’t want to forget who they are.
But having all those eZines cluttering up my Inbox caused me a great deal of stress. So to manage all the newsletters I get, I first created a separate email address that has the word “newsletters” before the @ sign.
Then, as each new eZine would arrive, I would change my email address with them to the one with the word “newsletters” in it for that subscription, or I would unsubscribe from the list if I didn’t want to receive email from them any longer.
Then I created a Rule that now sends all the emails arriving with the word “newsletters” at the beginning into that READING folder. There they sit until I take the time to read them. If, at the end of the week, they’re not read, I get rid of them; delete, and that folder is clean again. This keeps them out of my Inbox and I can get to them whenever I want, stress-free. Plus, because they get moved to the READING folder automatically with the Rule, I don’t have to manage them or look at them at all until I’m ready.
Take care of business
Client emails are some of the more important emails I receive and I never want to miss any of those. So I set up a CLIENTS folder and then created a Rule that automatically sends any emails from clients into that folder. This way they get my attention when I check my email, but I handle them the same as I do other emails as I describe below.
I check my email just three or four times a day and I deal with it all during each of those sessions.
Here’s what I do:
Using David Allen’s 2-minute Rule, I scan through the new emails to see if there is anything that needs my immediate attention. If I can respond to it or do whatever the email is requesting in less than 2 minutes, I do it right then. I then Move the completed email to the REFERENCE folder.
If it’s going to take more than 2 minutes, but I need to respond to or deal with the email on the same day, I move it to the ACTION folder. Then in each of the remaining email sessions, I deal with those same-day emails, making sure that I’ve emptied that ACTION folder by the end of my working day. Again, as I complete action on each email, I move it to the REFERENCE folder if I want to keep it. (Delete it if I’m done.)
Any email that I either don’t have time to look at right then or does not require any action beyond my reading it, goes into the TOMORROW folder where it sits, literally, until I can deal with it tomorrow.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Do it tomorrow.
In my first email session tomorrow, BEFORE I import any more new emails, I process all the emails in that folder. I either respond, save for later by putting it in the ACTION folder, move it to REFERENCE if I want to keep it, or DELETE it if I’m done with it and won’t ever need to see it again. I may also opt to leave it in the TOMORROW folder if I intend to do something with it on the next day.
The idea is, however, just like for your Inbox, to have an empty TOMORROW folder before receiving any new email today.
Any email that I want to keep for future reference — or just in case — gets moved to the REFERENCE folder regardless of which email address it is, subject matter, or topic. This way, I never have to remember where I put something. I know that it will be in the REFERENCE folder so if I need it later, I can just go there and use the handy-dandy search function to find whatever I’m looking for in that one folder.
This simplified system works great for me now, where before I had things categorized into too many different folders.
If you religiously follow your system, you will ALWAYS have a clean Inbox and it won’t take nearly so much time to manage email because you are always handling it in smaller batches and you can deal with the urgent stuff as it comes in or in a way that suits you best. Just remember, it is very easy to consider all email to be urgent. It is not. Being able to tell the difference will save you a lot of time and grief.
Oh, I have one other folder set up in my eMail manager, and that one is labeled FAX. I still get a few faxes from clients and since all those are electronic, coming to my computer via my email account, I set up a Rule that funnels all the faxes I get into that one folder. That way, I see them right away and can deal with them as appropriate for the circumstances.
If you don’t receive faxes in this way, you won’t need a FAX folder. Simple as that.
Notice that I don’t have a place for PERSONAL email in this system? That’s because this is for my business and I don’t need personal emails distracting me when I’m focusing on my work.
So I have a separate email address and manager set up only for my personal emails. I check those when I make the time for it, usually in the evenings, after my work day is done. I find it’s always best to keep the personal stuff out of the business stuff period.© Copyright 2009 Marty Marsh