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Hot E-mail Tips for Time Efficiency
By Robyn Pearce

Most people understand, at least intellectually, that a clear desk equals an uncluttered mind. However, a surprising number don't realise that the same thing applies to our e-mail Inbox. I recently spotted 1519 messages in a client's Inbox - no wonder she felt overwhelmed! (And her office paralleled the Inbox - there wasn't a clear centimetre of space anywhere.) 

The next week I was back with Helen's organisation. She couldn't wait to show me her office and computer. She'd implemented some of the ideas listed below, and we could see the top of her desk, the colour of the chair covers, and a lot less in her Inbox. 

'Robyn,' she said, her eyes sparkling with joy, 'it's as if a mountain has gone off my back. I feel more relaxed and up-to-date than I have for years!' 

Some you already have great email strategies, but maybe those around you don't (Feel free to do them a favour - run them off a copy of this article). One thing I consistently see in the business world is highly educated professional people who don't have any real understanding of commonsense paper and information techniques. If they were taught in schools and universities as a pre-requisite for further education, it would save many people a great deal of stress in their working lives.

How to run your e-mail 

  1. Treat your e-mail system like a filing cabinet. Set up folders for every major topic of interest, and sub-folders under key headings. To create, highlight the heading under which you want the new folder placed. Then right-click, New Folder, and give a name. 
  2. Never leave read mail in your Inbox for more than a few days. Treat it as you should handle paper on your desk - if it's worth keeping move it into a named folder by a click/hold/drag action. 
  3. Develop a low tolerance for a mailbox where you can't see blank space at the bottom of the page. In most Inboxes that gives you about 12-15 messages to look at, although the size of your Mailbox can be altered by clicking on the line in the middle of the page and dragging the line up or down to suit your needs. 
  4. Be prepared to shift mail of long-term interest to folders unread, and schedule in reading time. One could be entitled 'Newsletters to read', and another one called 'Web research to do'. Saves you getting distracted, (a common challenge once we start scrolling) and you can do your 'further education' at a less busy time. 
  5. Something you mustn't forget, and you're scared you'll loose sight of it if shifted to an 'Action Pending' file? There are two options, depending on whether you're visual or not. If you feel happy to get it out of the Inbox as long as you can find it again when you need it, use your contact management system or diary of whatever sort (as long as you're using them regularly) to put an alert on the date you want to do the action, and where you've filed the message. The electronic systems are the most reliable - they annoy the heck out of you until you do something with them! The other option, if you're seriously visual and panic at the thought of shifting mail out of sight before it's acted on, is to leave mail in your Inbox that still needs attention, but keep it minimal. If you've developed the sense of discomfort we talked about in Point 3, this will help to drive you to action, and reduce procrastination. 
  6. Be ruthless about deleting e-mails you don't need. Remember - they're usually only an alternative to a quick phone message. 
  7. Most programmes, unless your company has installed a default, don't automatically empty the Delete folder. Many people think an item dragged into Delete is gone. It's not. You almost always have to instruct it to Trash or Empty. With modern equipment a right-click gives you that option. 
  8. Store 'Sent' mail as well as 'Received' items in your folders, putting 'like with like' as you would file paper in a filing cabinet. 
  9. If it is important to keep a full record of correspondence, save your 'Reply' rather than the incoming message. Then both parts of the story are together. The quickest way is to develop the habit of going to the 'Sent' box as soon as you've dispatched an important mail, and dragging it immediately into the relevant folder. 
  10. Every month empty your Sent box for as far back as you're comfortable to delete. Click, hold, and drag any really important messages and delete the rest. I keep only two months worth of messages. Most of it will be rubbish. 

About the author: Robyn Pearce, of TimeLogic Corporation, has helped 1000's of folks in 'Getting a grip on their time'. Visit http://www.gettingagripontime.com for FREE subscription to her email that includes "how-to" practical time management assistance, books, tapes, products, and more.

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