Taking control of email

Do you have an effective way to process and organise e-mail? If you have lots of e-mail a new processing method may be required to better manage the demands of a growing inbox. Here are some straight forward tips to better manage the email flow.

1. Establish a reference system

Many people have received an email, looked at it, wondered what to do with it and simply left it in their email inbox. Do this over and over again and it doesn't take long to end up with several hundred (or thousand) messages in an email inbox.

Developing a new approach to processing any email inbox will help small business managers to gain more control, improve response time, and keep up with critical actions and due dates.

Most people receive a considerable amount of reference information through e-mail. So it is essential to have a system that makes it easy to transfer messages from an inbox into an e-mail reference system. An e-mail reference system is a series of e-mail file folders where reference information is store to ensure easy access to it later. The key to success is to create a reference system that makes it simple and easy to find information at a glance.

2. Schedule uninterrupted time to process and organise e-mail

How many interruptions does the average person get each day? It's nearly impossible to complete anything when you allow constant interruptions from the phone, people stopping by your office, and instant messaging. So it's critical that you set aside uninterrupted time to process and organise your e-mail.

Many e-mail messages require the person receiving the email to make a decision. Good decisions require focus, and focus requires uninterrupted attention. Successful business people establish a regular time each day to process e-mail so that they can empty their inbox. Of course, users can scan their e-mail during the day for urgent messages or requests on an as-needs basis. It is important however not to let this be the driver of every day activity.

One idea is to book a recurring appointment for an hour a day to process e-mail. During this time you should not answer the phone or take interruptions, and work only on processing your inbox. Once people get to zero e-mail in your inbox, they see the value of this one hour a day and stick to it like glue.

3. Process one item at a time, starting at the top

The first step to order in email is to sort it by the order in which to process it. For example, filter by date, subject, or who the e-mail is from.

Resist the temptation to jump around in no particular order. Begin processing the message at the top of the inbox and only move to the second one after the first one has been addressed.

4. Use the "Four D's for Decision Making" model

How many times in a day do we open, review, and close the same e-mail message over and over? Some of those messages are getting lots of attention but very little action. It is better to handle each e-mail message only once before taking action-which means you have to make a decision as to what to do with it and where to put it. Under the 4 D's model, you have four choices:

  • Delete it
  • Do it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it

Delete it

Generally people can delete about half of all the e-mail they get. Here are some questions to help decide what to delete in your inbox:

  1. Does the message relate to a meaningful objective you're currently working on?
  2. Does the message contain information you can find elsewhere?
  3. Does the message contain information that you will refer to within the next six months?
  4. Does the message contain information that you're required to keep?

Do it (in less than two minutes)

If you can't delete it, then decide, "What specific action do I need to take?" and "Can I do it in less than two minutes?" If you can, you should do it, there and then!

Delegate it

If you can't delete it or do it in two minutes or less, can you delegate it?

Defer it

If you cannot delete it, do it in less than two minutes, or delegate it, then the action required is something that only you can accomplish and that will take more than two minutes. Because this is your dedicated e-mail processing time, you need to defer it and deal with it after you are done processing your e-mail. Most business people  find that about 10 percent of your e-mail messages have to be deferred.

Of course, if a person has a backlog of hundreds of messages, it will take time to get to the point where their daily routine keeps them up to date. It's important to get that backlog down, so setting chunks of time aside to work through it is a good first step.

Building a process takes time, but by keeping an email inbox down to a minimum small business people can free their time and free their minds to focus on the things that are really important - like building their business and winning customers!

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