Earlier this week I read a blog post by Michael Arrington on TechCrunch (2,433 Unread Emails Is An Opportunity For An Entrepreneur) about his personal issues with email. The following is my response:
Although there may be some technical assists to managing that inbox, I think alot of it boils down to managing yourself, and how you approach all those goodies that show up in your inbox. One possible solution is to think of your inbox in a different way. Think of it like you view a postal mailbox, or the inbin on your desk. I don't know of many people who put their mail back in their postal mailbox after they glance at it, and I haven't seen too many office inboxes with thousands of papers in them. Why not? Because people sort them and put them somewhere else!
Shifting your perspective from using your inbox as a holding tank to that of a delivery tool may help you SORT those new emails faster. And sorting is different from working. This perspective makes way for you to empty that inbox after every sort, just like you do with postal mail.
Here's what works for me... Some time management experts will tell you to touch the item only once. I think that is a bunch of bunk. I have tried it for years, and it just doesn't work for me. Here is my alternative suggestion: Touch each item no more than twice!
Here is the scenario. You receive e-mail. You review it. Then you have to decide what you're going to do with it. If you subscribe to the process of touching it only once, you can really get bogged down in non-important items that may take a long time to read or handle. Instead, I like to suggest that you touch each email no more than twice, with one exception. (We'll get back to that later. ) When you review the email, you determine how important it is, and you move it to a file or a place that gets it out of your e-mail, yet it is held in a place where you can find it and not ignore it. After you have reviewed all your work and slotted these items in their appropriate holding places, then you go about setting the priorities and working on the most important items.
The exception to this is to give yourself permission to handle anything that will take you less than two minutes to handle. In other words if you open an e-mail, and you know you can handle it briefly by sending a quick response, or faxing a form quickly, my suggestion is that you do it, regardless of its urgency or importance.
So, let's get back to all that other work that you estimated would take more than two minutes to handle. What do you do with it? The first question you ask yourself is keep or trash. Trash as much stuff as you don't need -- it creates clutter. Once you have decided that it is not trash, then you need to decide on whether you need to take action, and what type of action, its priority, and whether it is urgent or not. You can set up folders for this. I use three action folders - Action A (priority,) Action B, and Reading. And the stuff I want to keep for reference I file in subject folders. Whatever you do, get all that stuff out of your inbox, because if you leave it in there, you're probably gonna look at it much more than twice or stare at it like a defeated zombie.
Ya can't keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. There've been alot of great ideas on this post. Perhaps a mindshift will help too!
What other ideas do you have?