What a great way to start the weekend: an empty mailbox! In fact, it has been like this with me for the last couple of weeks. I have found a new work method to effectively manage my roughly 5.000 monthly e-mails. How did I manage to reach my nirvana state in what concerns e-mail?
It was a hard and lengthy process but I am so proud today that I am willing to share some rules-of-thumb in case others want to profit from my learning curve.
Rule #1 – Get some literature first
Reading and answering e-mail is one of the most time-consuming tasks most of us face nowadays. It is important to read books on personal productivity to have a solid theoretical framework to guide our daily time management activity. There is nothing as practical as a theory and the problem might be to choose the best time management theory out there. I have found two books that changed my life: Get Thinks Done by David Allen and a much better to the scope of this article is the book “Master your work day now” from Michael Linenberger. This latter author has also an abridged version the “One minute to do list” that is the true source of my current method.
Rule #2 – Get rid of Outlook
I know folks from Microsoft will kill me for this but my life has improved when I have stopped using MS Outlook from my desktop and converted to Gmail directly from the cloud. My company has purchasedGoogle for Works since 2012 so we have been able to use both the Outlook and the Gmail mailboxes perfectly synchronized for quite some time. One day I simply got tired of categorizing my pending e-mails on a vast structure of folders and said to myself – this is ridiculous! I now have all my e-mail conveniently split into four tabs and I use a single archive folder. Whenever I need to find something I simply do a Gmail search. It works fine 99% of the times. The remainder 1% of e-mail that you cannot retrieve is something that you shouldn’t be worried about in the first place. If you have doubts about this please go back to rule #1.
Rule #3 implement the send & archive option
Initially, you may resist this, but once you start to trust Gmail searches you can choose to respond and automatically archive most of your e-mail. This is a superb contribution to have a clean mailbox all the time. However, there might be some cases when you simply cannot archive e-mail. This might be due to the importance of certain messages or perhaps because you need to respond once and then forward to another recipient in the future. In either one of these cases the clutter in your mail will start to appear. It is like the foam in poorly served draft beer. It can rise fast but there is an antidote for that.
Rule 4# use a scorecard
My life improved for the second time the day I learned that TRELLO could receive my e-mail. So whenever I have an important e-mail that deserves some important action such as in-depth reading, discuss with someone else, do some calls about it, or make a payment I simply send those messages to my TRELLO boards. I discover that I could create a scorecard to take further actions on my e-mail exactly the way I liked it and could have my inbox permanently cleaned.
Rule #5 Organize your in-mail as you would organize a meeting
This rule may not apply to all of my readers, I admit. Most people complain about their meetings being not the best example of process organization. In my case thanks to me being a facilitator and to using appropriate software tools we can convert most of our meetings in well-designed workshops, in particular, the most important ones. The same principles of workshop management should be applied to your in-mail. You can have columns like “events to prepare”, “things to read at home”, “things to discuss with marketing”, “calls to do”, etc. and arrange all your notes accordingly.
Rule #6 Periodically review your scorecards
In a workshop, you must always look at your agenda to see where you are in relation to your meeting objectives and the time available to produce the expected outcomes in order to make decisions and prioritize tasks. The same is valid for your in-mail scorecard. You need to periodically assess all your tasks in each column to make decisions concerning your goals and to select and prioritize the most important e-mails currently classified as tasks. This makes a critical difference in relation to your previously cluttered mailbox. With a scorecard, your life flows at the pace and rhythm you decide. If you are on the train you can do one, two things the most, perhaps a few calls. If you are at home, you grab your iPad and start reading that long e-mail with a new process improvement idea or a new campaign suggestion.
Rule #7 Less than one minute
Get rid and answer all e-mail that takes less than one minute to answer but not a minute more. If you have 15 messages that take you less than a minute to respond you will spend 15 minutes on this task, and that’s already an important chunk of your working day. However if you increment this to 2 minutes per message, you can easily waste 30 minutes responding to e-mail. The question is: can you afford to waste all this time? The answer is: it all depends on the importance of each e-mail. That’s why you need to make fast decisions. If it is important send it to TRELLO. You will react and respond later when more convenient.
Rule #8 Use Skype instead of internal e-mail
Agree with your team that certain e-mail topics are like conversations that generate ongoing discussions. Then use Skype group calls to communicate and update everyone, instead of sending e-mail. You can create a group call for whatever subject you decide but then use the chat function for sending text messages, files or even videos. Everyone will have much cleaner inboxes whilst making a habit of having Skype always on. I know about more sophisticated teams that prefer other tools such as Slack or Da pulse. But with Skype, I can also call or text my wife and kids at home or my daughter that is studying abroad.
That’s all folks! Not a big deal of advice but it took me some time to figure how to have my inbox permanently cleaned without cheating. How about you? Do you also have your inbox permanently clean? I would love to hear from you bellow.
Cover image credits: http://www.cardiffmailbox.co.uk/