Saturday, 17 November 2012

Zero inbox

A policy I practice at work is having my email completely under control, that means having techniques to make sure I get through the email, and ways of managing the inbox to make sure that emails in the inbox are either (a) unread or (b) not there / filed away.

So techniques for getting through my email are;

  • I get in early and e-mail is my number one priority, and I will get through the whole inbox until it is empty (see below), from there I will move on to the tasks of the day.
  • I usually have another email reading/actioning session after lunch, my lunch break is booked in for 1 1/2 hours so I can have a decent lunch break and then have plenty of time to get through the additional email that has built up - without being interrupted by meetings.
  • I have turned off email notifications - therefore I do not get disturbed during work time
  • Occasionally I check emails outside of these time windows, but prioritise the ones that are looked at.
When reading/actioning email during these time windows I use the following technique
  • Starting from the top read each email
  • I have Outlook 2010 quick steps for moving email to certain folders; 1) Reading list; 2) In progress; 3) Done; 4) Delete; and OneNote setup to accept email.
  • If the email is spam or not of interested click delete
  • If the email is of interest, contains a document or some business acumen information, non project related, then click "reading list" - then take some time out at a later time to read through these emails or delete them.
  • If the email is a simple task that can be done quickly, or something that can be replied to quickly then do the task or reply and click "done" (If it contains information that is of use, before clicking "done" click "one note" and choose the appropriate place to file it away).
  • If the email cannot be actioned quickly, needs a good 10+ minutes of effort or reading then right click and copy to the task list (this allows you to add in attachments). Choose the timings when to action the task, and choose a category for the project. If it contains useful information use "one note" to file the email. Then click "in progress".
  • The key is not to spend more than a few minutes on each email, and if you need to spend more than that it either goes to (i) The reading list; or (ii) The in progress list (with a task created).
  • There are also in progress email, that you don't need to action but you want to keep track of, these can go in the "in progress" list to.

Therefore when you are doing work and processing the tasks of the day, you can prioritise this work, and you have all the related emails in "in progress" and all the related knowledge in "One Note".

Being disciplined about keeping your inbox to zero, gives you a sense of control, and by filtering out just the tasks that you need to progress, with associated tasks you can then categorise these tasks per project and appropriately prioritise and schedule this work. And suddenly you've got a pipeline of work, and an effective way for new work to come in via the inbox, and no feeling of being swamped by your increasing inbox.

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