June 19

Why your Inbox is killing you

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Many of us are killing our productivity and effectiveness by the way we manage our Inbox. This post explains why – and gives a simple way forward.

(Oh, and for telecoms industry watchers – there is an important learning here for new Collaboration/Unified Comms products).

Getting to Inbox Zero?

Most of us spend a lot of our work day managing an avalanche of emails.  The Inbox is practically our ‘home page’ – our default work screen, and it can suck hours of time.  I recently made a simple change based on a simple observation, and I have gained hours of productivity each week as a result.

The problem

The problem is that our inbox is a mish-mash of very different things:

  • New mail that’s just arrived
  • Emails we need to act on urgently
  • Emails waiting on us to act on
  • Emails that we can’t act on quite yet because someone else needs to respond or act first
  • Emails we think might be helpful and don’t want to file away quite yet.
  • Oh, and articles we’d like to read.

But we tend to keep them all in the same inbox, meaning we are constantly scanning our inbox trying to decide ‘can I act on that yet?’, ‘is it time for a friendly reminder on this?’, ‘do I have time to read that’?  So we cycle endlessly through the same list trying to make progress as best we can.

The solution

The solution turns out to be simple: Separate those things. I don’t care if you use flags, folders, smart folders, labels, tags, but get these different things into different places. I created six different ‘places’:

  • Unread emails addressed to me – that I need to open/process
  • Urgent emails – need action from me today
  • Actionable emails – waiting on me to act/reply
  • Emails to monitor – where I am waiting on someone else to act/reply
  • Useful/interesting emails – to come back to someday when the time is right
  • Unread circulars/newsletters – to open/process

(I personally use flags and smart folders to create these as different views of my ‘real’ inbox – but I never look at my ‘real’ inbox any more, just one of these 6 views).

The benefit

The advantage of this is that each of these 6 views can be processed with a different frequency and intensity:

  • Unread emails addressed to me – I deal with several times a day (deal with immediately if quick, or otherwise move into another ‘place’, or otherwise delete)
  • Urgent emails – get to ‘inbox zero’ each day
  • Actionable emails – deal with as many as possible each day
  • Emails to monitor – review once every 1-2 days (see if I need to remind someone or whether I can now take action)
  • Useful/interesting emails – review once every 1-2 weeks
  • Unread circulars/newsletters – deal with every day if I have time

At the time of writing I have 0 unread emails addressed to me, 4 urgent emails for today, 8 emails where I can take action, 19 emails to monitor, 13 useful/interesting emails to come back to someday, and 3 circulars.  I have already spent about 5 minutes reviewing the “monitor” list, and for the rest of the day I can focus on just 12 emails where I can actually take action (and not the 35 where I can’t).

Result: BIG productivity improvement.

In the next article, I will explain the implication of all this for telecoms / Unified Communications / Collaboration software vendors:  fame and glory to anyone who can guess what the learning is in advance!

How do you manage your email? Have you tried separating out different types of message in your inbox?  Please leave your tips in the comments below!


 

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About the author 

Richard Medcalf

Strategist, consultant and business leader with 15 years experience in helping companies thrive in an Internet world. Formerly a partner in strategy consultancy Analysys Mason; now at Cisco Systems, developing new strategic partnerships with leading telecoms players.

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