Organizing Email – What Works? Guest Interview.

You’re a business owner or at work and your emails are overwhelming. What’s your trigger to clear your email box?

Talking with me recently, my food memories workbook co-author, Melissa Mannon, told me her trigger is … drum roll please … when the screen of emails gets way too long. Recently, she decided to tackle her emails as she began preparing her business tax information. She has some new habits to help her prevent that overwhelming feeling and we’ll share them here.

#1 Whittle down first, making your list of emails shorter, quickly.

For Melissa, a key question was:  What has to go through QuickBooks? She printed out each of these to input later on to QuickBooks software.

For you, it could be: Emails older than ‘x’ date can be moved to archives, client/project folders, or deleted. Sort and delete or move in groups.

Or, for example, Melissa will group together and look through all emails containing web site links or articles people have sent; to her, these are similar, because of what she DOES with the email. Because it’s a similar skill, she gets through these quickly when she reviews them altogether.

#2 Decide whether folders will work for you – or experiment with them for a week

Melissa prefers to keep the emails together, in her inbox, until she is ready to work on a project. So, for example, a project will trigger a ‘cleanup’ of sorts, and is useful for her because she can read all correspondence related to the project. Reading in context is key for her to immerse herself in the project.

#3 Business & personal emails – together or separate?

Melissa has business and personal emails showing up in the same box or email screen. Like many people, she uses a separate email address for internet purchases. She also has her own business and family domain.

One person, one email box – in context and all in one place.

Other people prefer to separate business and personal email addresses and log into two separate accounts. The benefit is that as your workday is separate from your personal time, so is your email focus. There’s less distraction during the workday for personal emails and vice versa.

#4 Decide on your new limit

For Melissa, she has a new limit, which is that she’ll only have one screen of email at any time. She uses the professional organizer’s “one in, one out” guideline you’ll hear us say often.  So for Melissa, when she receives a new email, now, she’ll scroll to the end of the list to the earliest emails. She will review and move or eliminate an older one.

#5 Change your language – or say it out loud

If you say you’ll “read” your email rather than “skim” it, you’ll make decisions faster about what to do with each email. And, you won’t forget to answer people’s messages either; once you skim, it’s easy to think you’ve already handled the issue. Language becomes habit.

As an experiment, particularly if you have verbal or auditory strengths, talk out loud as you read your email. What you may find is that you already know what to do. If you’re skimming or not reading aloud, the next steps may not be articulated clearly enough for you. So stop, and listen to what you say about each email. You’ll learn a lot about processing and decisions.

Or sometimes, you know the steps and are clear. But you don’t have time or it’s not a priority to carry through with the next actions right at this instant. Use your regular master/to do/next action items list to record what you’ll do. You can drag the email into a folder called something like “Hold for action item.”  Or drag the email to your calendar on a date when you can take care of it.

Thank you, Melissa, for sharing how you’re wired and what you do with email. Hope you’ve all found some useful ideas in here from both of us!

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