Your inbox is constantly full, despite your best efforts to keep up. Messages seem to arrive faster than you can read and reply to them. A sinking feeling turns to panic when you realize that you are days late replying to a critical message from an important client or a high priority project. If this sounds familiar, it may be time for a new way to manage your messages and a new way to manage your time.
Consider how much of your productive working time is eroded each day by replying to emails. What could happen if important messages continue to be lost in the sludge of your inbox? If only you had a system that helped you to organize and streamline your inbox management, a system that accelerated replying, deleting, and properly filing every message. Fortunately, there is such a system, and it is based on two simple-but-radical guidelines:
- Avoid reading and managing your email first thing every morning.
- Strive to leave your inbox empty at the end of every working day.
Does this suggest ignoring messages or deleting with maniacal glee everything in your inbox every day? Though these guidelines seem so contrary to common practice, let’s back up a moment and investigate the sources.
Getting Things Done: “The Four Ds”
Productivity expert David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity promotes a method of organizing everything in your inbox so that you deal with each item once—and only once. Allen recommends quickly reviewing each item, instantly deciding its priority, and immediately filing each into one of four categories called the “Four Ds”: Delete, Do, Delegate, and Defer. Once sorted by the action required, only the important messages get your immediate attention. A mammoth inbox suddenly becomes manageable.
Known to productivity enthusiasts as “GTD” (Get Things Done), David Allen’s system offers a powerful method to organize and manage information, commitments, and communications. Allen’s GTD system of organizing and prioritizing your inbox, to-do lists, and daily tasks can be extended to your entire workflow and whole life, says Kelly Forrister, Senior Facilitator with David Allen Company. Forrister coaches clients on how to harness this integrated system to get their inboxes—and their lives—under control so they enjoy peace of mind and a stress-free working day.
Break the “first-thing-in-the-morning” email habit
Do you find yourself reading and replying to emails every day from morning to noon? Julie Morgenstern’s Never Check E-Mail In the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work warns against immersing yourself in email as your first task in the morning. The morning hours are often the most productive time of the working day and it’s far too easy to fritter away these “peak hours” by reading and managing your email.
Morgenstern suggests pursuing some other task or project during your first hour at work and save reading and replying to email when you’re more focused on your goals for the day. Forwarding your important emails to your BlackBerry® device alerts you to anything urgent, and enables you to reply to lower priority emails as you have spare time between tasks.
Smaller is better
Some people measure their organizational importance or productivity by the size of their inbox. However, equating a bulging inbox with personal busyness may be a notion no more valid than associating a messy desk with being organized. How many of those messages really require your attention or even merit a reply? Do you allow your inbox to swell to a size that strains your BlackBerry device?
Keep it small, advises Kelly Forrister, who says that maintaining thousands of emails in your inbox makes no more sense than keeping thousands of voicemails on your answering service. Consider weeding through those old emails, sort them by the “Four Ds” (Delete, Do, Delegate, and Defer) and cut your email inbox down to size.
Empty that inbox!
Is actually emptying your inbox before the end of each day a realistic goal? Yes, says Kelly Forrister, who recommends a short checklist of questions to help you quickly sort through your messages and tame an unruly inbox:
- Can you safely delete the item? If the item doesn’t need to be read, saved, or require a response, then consider deleting it.
- Can you do the action that the email requires be done in less than two minutes? If you can, try to do the action required immediately.
- If you cannot do it, can you delegate it? Delegate can also mean handing it off sideways—consider whether a colleague could better handle it.
- If you cannot take care of it immediately, can you defer it? Be aware, however, that “deferring” does not mean allowing the item to sink beneath your notice forever!
Forrister recommends streamlining your inbox management by sorting all your remaining messages between just two folders: one labeled ACTION, the other labeled WAITING FOR. Items requiring more time than is immediately available can go into the ACTION folder. Items requiring you to confer with someone else before responding can into the WAITING FOR folder. Forrister suggests applying this system to your entire inbox, or starting fresh today with an empty inbox by moving all your old messages into an old email folder.
Either way, Forrister maintains that being disciplined about filing your messages and limiting your inbox processing to only a few times per day can dramatically improve email management. Your BlackBerry device is ideal for inbox processing when you have some downtime away from your desk, and can be configured to automatically forward urgent messages from designated priority senders such as your boss, client, or assistant. With practice, your newfound “GTD” organizational skills will deliver deep satisfaction—and an empty inbox at quitting time—so you go can home feeling worry-free!