Each year the amount of email receive and send seems to increase. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to efficiently work through email so I’m using my time most efficiently. Here’s the system that I’m using now. It’s mostly borrowed from the inbox zero system that David Allen recommends in Getting Things Done.
First, you need these few folders:
When you receive a message, first ask, “What is this?” and then, “What is the next action on this?”
You will find quickly that your best friend is the delete key. If there is an action on the email and you can do it in under 2 minutes, get it done. If not, put it in Next Actions.
Here’s how you use the rest of these folders:
Archives –> I received an email from a teacher that I might want to search for and use as a resource someday, but I don’t need it right now – or – I have an action that is complete, but I want to keep holding on to it.
Next Actions –> Your inbox should not be the folder you are working from as you can quickly become distracted by new messages. If you get a message that will take more than 2 minutes to complete, just put it in Next Actions until you finish processing your inbox. Then work form Next Actions.
Waiting For –> This is an advanced folder. If you’re working on a project or delegate a task to someone, put the email in your waiting for folder so you know you are waiting for a response.
That’s it for now. I’ve found these techniques helpful. I still struggle to manage all of my email, but having a system keeps me honest about the amount of time it takes to process email and if I have too much on my plate at any one time.
Oh, last thing… For adults, if you get 100 emails a day, you probably want to block out 1 – 1.5 hours each day to get through them. No small percentage of your day should be used managing email.