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How To Handle Your Email Inbox and Still Be Happy

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Handling a busy email inbox doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  But not everyone can hire a personal assistant to take care of the flurry of emails that flood the inbox of any person who is even remotely passionate about what they are doing.  Your passion is going to generate email and developing good, healthy boundaries with your inbox will lead to a strong relationship of mutual respect!

Once A Day, Dr.’s Orders
I recommend assigning a specific amount of time at as scheduled part of your day to attend to your inbox.  Best for me is first thing in the morning, when I’m bright and cheerful, and that usually means after I’ve had a cup of coffee.  This method doesn’t work for me when I’m tired
or rushed.  For people trying this method I recommend they start by allotting no longer than one hour for the task of handling their inbox per day.  In that time, you do what you can and the rest of the email just has to wait till the next day.

Call Me!
For this system to work for me I need the support of an email application (I use Outlook) that can alert me if my COO, Music Director, Assistant Minister or best friends (you get the idea) writes to me.  At this point, however, I have the people in this important group trained to pick up the phone and call me if something is urgent.  I know of one person who has Outlook set up with rules (or quick steps) to forward his significant-people-emails to an address that he receives on his smart phone.  That way he really is using his phone in a smart way and giving his creative attention to the people who are important to his success.

Four Choices Only
The second necessary condition for this system to work is something I learned from a business magazine so many years ago that I don’t remember what publication it was.  I do remember that it was an article in the early 90s by Stephanie Winston, outlining an organizational system for filing paperwork.  I’ve been using it on my email inbox with great success.  The system allows for only four actions when working with your inbox, Toss, Refer, Act or File – think of the acronym TRAF when you get started.

That's what's on my mind when I open my email inbox – which of these four actions will I apply to each item?  I start at the oldest email and get working on applying one of the four actions.  “Toss” those things that are not going to be useful right now.  If I think I will read
them later, then I apply the “File” action and move it out of my in box to a folder for things I think I'll read later.  I hardly ever read them later.  But unless I move them to that folder, they hang like a mist over my mind and make it difficult for me to see what is really going on.  I have a folder called “Held For Later” and it sits there in my file structure smiling at me as it holds all those whatchamacallits I’ll probably never need to read.  But because they’re safe, and out of sight, my mind is clearer.

“Refer” for me means give it to the person who is going to respond or make something happen.  It may means passing a resource to the email author or connecting them with the person who is able to take the next steps.  I make sure that when I forward an original email to someone else to take action, I am very clear in what I am asking that person to do.  I try to be consistent by adding a greeting, short explanation for the forwarded email, clear request and details about whether or not I need to have a follow up.

“Act” means handle it right there and then, not later.   Act by answering the email, making the booking, creating the reminder/task, or whatever action it takes to delete the original email item from my in box. 

And I only do as much as I can handle in one hour.  Of course there I times I break my own one hour rule.  Nevertheless, by keeping it simple and short I am freed me up to do the creative work and reading that fuels my real passion.   As I practice handling my inbox in this way, I find I am getting quicker at processing it and what was once an overwhelming task is now something I can manage and still be happy!

3 comments:

  1. AWESOME - EVERYONE SHOULD DO THIS

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is great! Will you give me permission to use this with a few changes (ie; remove music director, etc.) to blog on my company's website?

    Gisela

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, please feel free to use it. Please just keep the reference to Stephanie Winston because it is her system that I adapted for my email. Glad you found it useful. Big hugz. Edward

      Delete

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