Managing Email Overflowing Inboxes

Managing Email Overflowing Inboxes

While keeping up with the daily paper flow in​ one's In-Box is​ a​ challenge for most businesses, the same situation is​ repeating itself in​ email In-Boxes. it​ is​ not unusual, during our time management training seminars and consultations, to​ hear that hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of​ email messages have collected in​ someone's inbox.

Each time you fail to​ make an​ immediate decision on what to​ do with a​ note, it​ becomes clutter, just as​ the stacks of​ paper that accumulate in​ our offices do. This clutter is​ not only physical clutter but mental clutter, distracting us from the immediate tasks at​ hand.

Consider two ways that these missives accumulate. Start by imagining you left a​ totally empty Inbox and that you receive 50 emails a​ day.

Scenario One:
Fifty emails were waiting for you today, a​ conservative number, and you cleared out 25 of​ them, leaving the other 25 to​ handle at​ a​ different time. Tomorrow there are 50 new ones. if​ you again handle 25 and clear them out, leaving the remainder for another time, you start with 100 on the 3rd day. in​ a​ week, when you open your inbox, instead of​ the 50 that you began with that week, you now are looking at​ 225 things to​ make decisions about. Stress starts to​ build..

Scenario Two:
You receive 50 emails today and deal with 25 of​ them but do not delete them because you never know when you might want to​ reference that information again. Therefore tomorrow you have 100 emails in​ your Inbox as​ you start the day. You have to​ scan through all of​ them because some of​ the ones from yesterday may now require additional action, but you’re not sure which ones. The next Monday you’re facing 350 emails and dread the thought of​ having to​ work through them..

That's just one week. Every day you have to​ scroll through the entire list and try to​ figure out if​ there's something that needs to​ be done. Why not make a​ decision immediately on each email, moving it​ to​ the appropriate place for further action? it​ will eliminate that feeling of​ being overwhelmed as​ well as​ that sinking sensation of​ missing a​ deadline.

Just as​ I train people during seminars and one-on-one sessions to​ use a​ RAFT to​ navigate through the stacks of​ paper and keep from getting swamped, so will the RAFT method allow you to​ experience smooth sailing through your volumes of​ email.

My RAFT consists of​ four planks: READ -- ACT – FILE – TOSS. Every item, whether paper or​ electronic, goes into one of​ these categories. a​ decision is​ made immediately. You know where every paper goes, how to​ find it​ again, and when to​ follow up.

Reading materials can be divided into two groups:

1. Casual reading: it​ would be good to​ have a​ chance to​ read it, but there's no deadline, and it​ doesn't relate to​ a​ current project. Have a​ casual reading folder set up that you can move this to​ and then periodically block a​ time in​ your schedule specifically for casual reading.

2. Reading with an​ accompanying action: Move it​ to​ your task list. if​ you're using an​ electronic task list, drag it​ over and attach a​ date to​ it. if​ you’re using a​ paper-based tickler system, print the mail and drop it​ into the appropriate date.

This email requires further action on your part. Drag it​ to​ the calendar or​ task list on your email program and assign a​ date, or​ print it​ and put it​ into the specific date in​ your paper tickler system. to​ determine the date, always be asking yourself, "What is​ my NEXT step? When will I have a​ chance of​ getting to​ do this?"

If there is​ no action you need to​ take, you might want to​ keep it​ temporarily or​ else place it​ into your long-term filing cabinet.
1. Project Files: if​ it's an​ ongoing activity and you want to​ track the progress, have a​ temporary folder on your desktop. You can delete the folder at​ the end of​ the project.

2. Reference Files: You want to​ retain the note for future reference, so you might print that and put it​ into your paper filing system, or​ save it​ in​ a​ related folder within 'My Documents'.

Be liberal with the Delete key. So many people are afraid to​ toss out any mail, even if​ there's nothing else they need to​ do with it. Just as​ in​ paper, the question to​ ask yourself is, "What is​ the WORST possible thing that could happen if​ I didn’t have this email?" if​ it's not too bad, and if​ there are no legal or​ financial reasons for keeping it, then toss it.

Everyone has heard of​ the adage, "Handle a​ piece of​ paper one time only." That shouldn’t be taken at​ face value. Instead you handle it​ only once as​ far as​ making a​ decision right away. Then you put it​ in​ the appropriate place to​ deal with at​ a​ specific time. Work your email the same way and cut down on daily stress.

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