EmailI’m hoping you have applied the previous weeks’ Keys that I’ve sent you and so have cleaned up and cleared out “OLD” stuff (and I defined that as 6 months old or older). This week’s email is to give you specific ideas for dealing with the more current backlog of emails in your inbox. For some of you, the backlog is a month or less. Whatever it is, consider implementing the following:

  1. Set aside a specific amount of time each day to deal with processing–and with gradually eliminating the “backlog.” If you have a timer on your computer, your watch, or your smartphone, set the timer for 30 minutes and devote those thirty minutes to dealing with your email and eliminating the backlog. If your timer goes off and you are making good progress and feel like continuing, then do so.
  2. I am not sure what your backlog is, but here are two possibilities:
    • Unread emails which show up as “bold” to indicate they are all unread.
    • Emails that are all “read” but you haven’t processed them.
  3. The way of thinking when dealing with your email backlog is the same way to consider dealing with a paper backlog….start with the most recent first and work backward. Just like you probably have boxes of papers, or file folders full of papers that you could start sorting and processing, you are better off using your time to deal well with the newer paper that is coming into your office. Same with your email. Start with the most recent and work backwards.
  4. So, during your processing time, click on your email and sort them so that they are in date order, and deal with the most recent one first. And deal with it. Here’s what “deal with it” means (and these are the only 5 choices for what you need to do with that email):
  5. Delete it. Delete it if it is trash, has nothing to do with you, is a waste of time, or is a duplicate of information you already have or could get elsewhere.
  6. Delegate it. Forward it if someone else needs the information, task, or responsibility (and you don’t).
  7. Handle it (right now). If you can handle this email in two minutes or less, then answer it, do it, make the phone call, put the information in your planner….whatever the action that is required.
  8. File it for action. File it for later action if you cannot do the task now because you don’t have the time or don’t have the information. You can file it in several ways. You can print out the email and put it in your “tickler/1-31 file” or you can put the email into an email “folder” you create that indicates that the items in it need action. I have an email folder labeled “ASAR” which means, As Soon As Reasonable. I don’t put anything in that email folder unless it requires my action. I also change the subject line of the emails I put in there so that it say what the action is.
  9. File it for reference. If the email is something that you will need later on for one reason or another, and the information is not going to be available anywhere else, then file it. For example, if you get an email that confirms receipt of a form you turned in, and you want to have that as “proof” just in case, then either print out the email and file it in a physical form, or file it in digital format (within your email program or somewhere else on your computer). I have an email folder called “Orders Expected” and that’s where email confirmations of orders I’ve placed would go.
  10. Please sit at your computer and start on the most recent emails you have and make progress through them in this way. You will get more and more efficient on your processing until you get to a point of burning through 60 – 80 emails in an hour….or maybe even faster if fewer of them require action.

I know these last couple of emails have been lengthy, but they involve more explanation than some of the upcoming Keys to Keeping Chaos at Bay. If these ideas are helpful, put them into practice today!  Set aside email processing time everyday and set as a goal to process a little more email everyday than you receive–and before you know it, you will have eliminated the backlog.

If you like these tips and would like more to help your writing goals you will want the Get a Plan! Guide® to Seven Sane & Sensible Email Practices part of the Get a Plan! Guides® series designed to give you the ideas and inspiration to do your work easier, faster, and in a more focused fashion.