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This chapter is from the book

PROCESSING YOUR EMAIL

If one of your challenges is spending too much time checking, reading, and responding to your email, implementing a new email management system is essential to your success, no matter what new tools you start to use.

DECIDING HOW OFTEN TO CHECK YOUR INBOX

Checking your inbox too frequently is an unproductive, distracting timewaster. If you have this common tendency, you can save hours a week by creating a specific schedule for handling email. I don’t believe there is one “best” schedule for managing email, however. There are too many variables based on the type of work you do, your company culture, and your own work style and preferences. Some people get by with checking email once a day; others require more frequent interaction with their inboxes. There are also big differences between the urgency of messages in your work inbox and your personal inbox (once a day is usually fine for that one).

For example, I used to work on a large global team for a major software company. The work environment was fast paced with frequent changes, late-notice meetings, and team members around the world. Checking email once a day simply wouldn’t work in this environment. Instead, I created a system where I checked messages three times a day—when I first started working, right after lunch, and at the end of the day. This enabled me to respond within a few hours to urgent messages, yet flag less time-sensitive requests for processing once daily (for me, this was at the end of the day).

The key is to determine what timeframe works best for your own needs and stick to it.

CREATING A SYSTEM FOR MANAGING YOUR EMAIL

The other big timewaster is reading messages multiple times before acting on them. When you’re ready to review the messages in your inbox, you should take one of the following actions:

  • Respond—Answer the message and then either delete or archive it with an appropriate label. Also consider applying a filter for future processing, if appropriate.
  • Delete—Delete any unnecessary messages. If a message is spam, select it and click the Report as Spam button to alert Gmail. If a message is from a mailing list you no longer want, unsubscribe.
  • Archive—Archive messages that you need to keep but don’t need to act on. Applying a label to archived messages makes finding them in the future easier.
  • Delegate—Send this message for someone else to act on. For example, you might delegate to one of your employees or forward a message to someone else if you aren’t the right person to handle the specific request.
  • Defer—If a message is something you need to act on but can’t handle right now, you must defer it. One way to do this is to add this message to your task list by selecting its check box and then selecting Add to Tasks from the More drop-down list. Another way to handle this is to use stars to flag “to-do” items. You can leave messages that need action in your inbox or archive them with an appropriate label, such as To Do. This depends on how important it is to you to achieve Inbox Zero.

See Chapter 3 for more information about using labels, filters, stars, tasks, and more to streamline your email processing time.

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