It really makes sense…you’ll see what I mean in a minute.
Many people we come across often have 1,000s or even 10,000s of emails in their INBOX. That’s a ton of email, don’t you think? Many users just look at the number and say, “wow, I have a lot of email”, when the number the see only represents the number of emails that are UNREAD. The total number is often far greater. How did this happen and what can we do to manage our email better?
Pretend like you’re a desk worker from 1960, that’s what you can do. It works, I swear!
Look into your minds’ eye and imagine what your desk would look like. A large steel desk, probably gray, with a chair also made of steel and covered in green vinyl on the seat and the back. Now look at the top of the desk. A blotter covers most of the area, but then there’s a pencil cup, a stapler, a tape dispenser, a bowl with paperclips in it and maybe even a plaque with your name on it. Perhaps a photo of your family in a nice frame. Getting the picture?
Many of the desks for a typical worker had an INBOX on the left and an OUTBOX on the right. Supervisors and other co-workers would put things in your INBOX for you to complete. You would work on them and shift them to the OUTBOX for your supervisor or other co-workers to take the next time they came around to your desk. Old-school to be sure, but very efficient and effective. You could easily see your workload at a glance. A full INBOX meant you had lots to do and a full OUTBOX meant you got a lot accomplished. If your INBOX was piling up and not enough items were making it your OUTBOX, you probably got a visit from your supervisor complaining about your lack of efficiency.
Your email INBOX must be treated the same way as your 1960 INBOX. Consider it more of a TO-DO list of things you need to accomplish. Once the emails get answered they move to the OUTBOX and then get sent out to the recipient. But you know the emails don’t actually leave your INBOX. A copy remains there until you do something about it. Here’s where we time travel back to 1960 again.
Two other items that are at your desk include your file drawers and trash can. The file drawers might have those green hanging folders, called Pendaflex, that you can put nice clear plastics strips with the name of a client or a project. Inside those we put manila folders of specific things within that client or project that needed to be kept separate from the rest of the items. And the trash can was probably the same color as your desk and was right under your feet. No recycling cans back in those days…everything went in there; papers, food, soda cans, you name it.
So now we head back to our email. You know about the trash can or Deleted Items folder. Get in the habit of deleting items once you’ve answered the email. It’s a good method of keep things tidy, even if the email thread is still ongoing. Getting rid of the latest email after you’ve responded keeps your INBOX lean. If you need to keep it in your INBOX as a reminder, use the FLAG or FOLLOW-UP option. Don’t forget to delete it when it’s resolved to keep things in order.
Many times we need to keep emails for one reason or another. Perhaps there’s some important info that you’ll need to access later, like airline or hotel reservations for a flight 3 months from now. I don’t want that getting buried in my INBOX. I put in a folder called TRAVEL so I can easily find it later. There are many times when we need to save emails, so think like a 1960 file drawer. Label your folders for easy sorting and retrieval later. As an example, I have a folder called PERSONAL and under that I have folders named TRAVEL, COLLEGE, INSURANCE, TENNIS, GOLF and ’73 NOVA (a sweet hot rod I work on with my kids). At the end of a project, I’ll locate the last sent item from that email thread and save that in a folder. It will have all the info I need (except attachments so keep those emails too as they arrive) and it’s all in a nice, neat package.
So bottom line…go back in time to realize some new-age efficiencies. Keep your INBOX lean by deleting the emails you’ve answered via the OUTBOX or the ones you don’t want at all (mark the ones as SPAM if necessary). Consider your INBOX your TO-DO list and you’ll be happy. Sort and save the ones that are important so you can get back to them later.