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Inbox Chaos

November 29, 2009 1 comment

For most of my email using years…I’ve struggled with inbox chaos. Simply put, the inflow was consistently greater than the outflow. At times, my inbox contained 200+ messages(that’s as many as I recall/willing to admit).

200+ messages = Arrrggghh!!…not a good feeling. When you have hundreds of messages in your inbox, you’ve created a messy situation for yourself that includes:

  • Inefficiencies every time you touch your inbox
  • Lost productivity
  • Stress
  • Dissapointed senders
  • Bottleneck/roadblock/hindrance/obstruction to whatever you’re connected to
  • Missed opportunites
  • Confusion
  • Perceptions of out of control

And when you take a step back…this is certainly not a model for excellance in serving internal and external customers.

I thought perhaps I was the only one who struggled with inbox chaos, but a recent review of inboxes here at SN-a CPA firm- indicated it’s an epidemic! Our reports show that certain folks have thousands of messages in their inbox. Yes,…thousands!

My personal goal was that I should never have to scroll/page down to review my inbox messages. For the past two months my inbox has been in the 20-40 message range. Below is the program I followed:

1. Take action when you receive an email.

Adopt the “Four D’s for Decision Making” model by a resolve to take one of the following four actions:

Delete it: If the email requires no action, hit the delete button.
Do It: If you can quickly respond to the email, do it so you can delete or archive the email.
Delegate It: If there’s a more appropriate person to respond to the email, forward it on to them.
Defer IT (Set a Reminder/Add to Calendar): If the email requires thought at a later date, change it to a reminder—or if the action requires your time, change it to a posted appointment to your calendar.

If you’re returning to your inbox after a few days away, try sorting your inbox by sender to identify chains of emails from the same people and to respond to the most current email in each chain.

2. Respect other people’s inboxes.
● Don’t CC people unnecessarily.
● Don’t reply to all if the reply is only relevant to one or two of the people on the email.
● Unless confirmation of receipt is needed, try to avoid sending gratuitous “Thanks” replies.
● Make it easy for recipients to act on your emails by using subject lines that are descriptive and specific. Consider beginning your subject lines with words like “FYI:,” “Reminder:”, “Urgent:” and “Action Needed:” to help recipients quickly understand if action is needed and if so, how quickly.

3. Organize your inbox.

Set up rules so that emails that you get regularly from a particular sender (such as newsletters and alerts) are automatically routed to a particular folder and kept separate from your normal flow of emails. Reserve your inbox for incoming messages and messages that you will act on in the near-term.

4. Moderate your inbox exposure.

Email can be interruptive, so give yourself time to focus on other tasks. Turn your email off sometimes to give yourself uninterrupted time to work on projects.

Try adopting the Four D’s for Decision Making to better manage your inbox…give it a week of effort, diligently, for 7 days.

I’m interested in hearing about your successes/obstacles…please share.

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