For years my e-mail approach was like killing a Hydra. For each email I deleted, two more arrived in my inbox. Part of the problem, I knew, was the nature of my job.
My best friend works for a large consulting firm and I was grateful to outline the approximate strategy that his company shares with consultants to help them manage their volatile mailboxes. The technology is delivered with all the beauty and simplicity expected of a company that calculates seven digits per action and depends on a folder system that can count on one hand.
DITCH SUBJECTS FOR CONDITIONS
The major fault in my experience is forming folders based on subjects. E-mails, such as meetings, seldom fall by the wayside. Where do you archive an important update that covers two independent projects? What do you do with the same email if you need an answer?
The second mistake I’ve seen, and the personal commitment, is trying to use a mailbox as a to-do list. There simply are not enough hours on the workday to respond to the emails that are accumulating there. Over time, just because of the way I “organized” my mailbox, the e-mails that I should have answered were pushed deeper and deeper and eventually they were forgotten.
The system that saved my mental balance needs only five folders:
- Inbox: The input tray is a holding pen. Emails should not stay here longer than necessary to be saved in another folder. The exception to this rule is when you respond immediately and wait for an immediate response.
- This week: everything that needs to be answered before the end of the week.
- This month/quarter: everything that requires a long-term answer. Depending on their function, some emails may need a month’s time to respond, others can operate quarterly.
- For Your Information (FYI): Most of the articles I receive are informative. If I think I should get an email, I will save it in this folder.
SHOW NO MERCY
The email will quickly become your teacher if you take no responsibility. So, once you have adopted this system, you must follow without mercy; there are no half measures. We tend to be more relaxed about the new adoption habits as their novelty fades. But I’ve improved over time by sticking to my Five-Folder Rule. I’m relentless with deleting emails that do not require my attention.
Here are five suggestions that make the system more effective:
First of all, I keep a real list of pending activities. Occasionally I add items to this list based on the content of an email that does not require an answer. For example, if an email thread causes us to schedule a meeting, I’ll write a note to prepare my boss with certain information from those emails, but I’ll delete it after completing the preparation session.
Second, do not overstate your importance. Too many people want to express their opinions about too many things. We all have leadership aspirations and that is generally a good thing. One way to increase your influence is to take on more responsibility. But do not confuse the opinion with the leadership, or increase the number of emails with more difficult tasks. If you do not need to answer, put it in the folder “FYI” or delete it, it’s either. And if it stays in “cc,” you get the last thread if all respond, so you should not worry.
Third, do not overstate the importance of others. Many people want answers today. I’m one of them. But I’ve learned that today I do not always need or deserve an answer. This is especially true if you have obligations that directly affect customers or the financial health of your business. Do not put emails in the Today folder that you do not own. If it is in the Today folder, it must respond without exception on that day.
Fourth, you can work in multiple folders at the same time. Aim to maintain the “Today” folder little for obvious motives. If it’s empty and you have time to send longer-term emails, go to the “This Week” folder. I usually spend Friday mornings writing emails this week. If I do not have all the information I need, I can start my answer, but save it as a draft and send it only when everything is grilled.
Finally, if your work is project-based, you can create this system from five folders for each project. It is possible to run two or three projects simultaneously, and technically a total of 10 to 15 folders are created, but the system is retained. Once the project is completed, it saves the entire structure.
As with any new work habits, especially personal organization, it may seem unnatural at first; I found out that I had to get used to it. Shortly after that, I was still stressed because I felt I was missing something. In reality, however, everything was finished and gradually I began to see it. I was doing a lot of SEO work at the time and implementing some tips I found on Domain Authority Links. It turned out that I was used to feeling the weight of the e-mail, and I confused it with productivity. Armed with only five folders, these days are over.