The secrets of super-efficient Inbox management
29th April 2010
... Comments

Some people have 100s of messages in their mailbox - unread for weeks and months. Maybe they've already seen them via Blackberry or iPhone. Maybe they glanced at the subject and decided it's not relevant. Nevertheless the ever growing Inbox becomes a source of frustration and stress. Are you really keen to tackle it, if you have only got 10 minutes and it says you have 578 unread messages?

However the problem doesn't have to become so unmanageable. All you need to do is to employ some regular mailbox hygiene and efficiency rules and follow them daily. So we are sharing our virtual assistant's secrets with you and offering our top tips of efficient email management:

  1.  Use folders: you can decide on the folder structure for your company and file emails in a way that you can easily find all communications related to your IT support queries, membership in BNI or a particular client's project.
  2. If space on your server is limited – download all relevant attachments from emails to your computer and preserve only the email message. Or even better – utilise document sharing systems like Zoho (free), SendThisFile or Basecamp and just email the link to the document in the system.
  3. If you are using Outlook – you can drag and drop emails into Calendar and tasks to create reminders and diary appointments and then file the message.
  4. Delete system messages straight away: Outlook diary notifications or attendance confirmations are already stored somewhere else in the system, notifications from LinkedIn or other social networks are available to read as soon as you login.
  5. Unsubscribe from no longer relevant newsletters or lists . This will reduce the amount of “S.P.A.M” that you receive every day.
  6. Use Rules and Alerts in Outlook – for example to automatically file emails from a particular recipient to read later (that’s what I do with Business Link newsletters).
  7. Use the subject line wisely – help others understand what your message is about.
  8. Apply GTD time management approach to deal with each message - see Step 2 below..

About "Get Things Done" - time management system:

Step 1: Gather up every single thing that requires action on your part: unopened mail, emails, voicemails, countertop clutter, reading materials, scary catch-all cabinets you can barely open. Make a list of those tasks, projects and items.

Step 2: Process each and every item by determining a "next-action": the very next thing you need to do, either to resolve an issue or at least keep it moving toward completion. Many items you'll only need to file or throw away. Some hard-and-fast rules:

  • Follow your action list. Address things one at a time, beginning with the top item in your pile and working your way down. Don't move on to the next item until you have determined what next-action is required. Some items may require hard thought; take the time to do it now. If you leave it until later, it won't be any easier, and meanwhile, it will continue to occupy valuable mental space.
  • Two-minute actions. If a next-action can be completed in less than two minutes, do it right way, the first time you have the item in front of you. Not only do you get all the rewards of rapid turnaround, but you've also freed up your mind for whatever's next.
  • Delegate and defer. For any item longer that two minutes, you can either delegate it, or simply defer it to a "trusted system"- the combination of calendar, file folders, and action-item lists that form the backbone of GTD.

Step 3: Fill in your “trusted system”. Put your action steps into categories where you can review and complete them easily. Develop the combination of calendar and written contextual (e.g. to phone, to print, at home) action lists that will work best for you. Have a separate file for projects (tasks that require more than one step), “maybe” list and “waiting for others/something” list.

Step 4: Set aside time each week to review your action lists, so that no items go uncompleted, by going through Steps 1 to 3 and reviewing your lists and calendar.

Step 5: Get Things Done: consider your context, time available, priorities. Ensure that none of the 3 kinds of activities (pre-defined activities - things already in your calendar or on your lists; work as it shows up; and defining your work - planning, scheduling, making lists, setting priorities, brainstorming) overwhelms the other two. The key pitfall is letting seemingly urgent new items distract you from planning, as well as from equally important stuff that is already in your system.

So by applying 8 steps every day and by regularly reviewing your Inbox management practices you will be able to achieve the desired Result: lean Inbox, clear Objectives, completed Action lists, information at your fingertips and a lot less stress for you next time you open your emails. And don't forget: email management is one of the core services offered by any good Virtual Assistant.

For more similar tips and advice check our blog or subscribe to our newsletter.

About the Author

Tamara B

Member since: 8th May 2012

I'm a Virtual Assistant offering secretarial, book-keeping and social media marketing services to small businesses and self-employed professionals. I design and write e-newsletters, blogs, websites and...

Popular Categories