There are 3 key strategies you can use to get control of email overload and use it in an effective and productive way. They are what I call the WWW of Mastering Email – the When, What and Where.
This blog looks at the third and final strategy, the WHERE of mastering email – how to quickly file email away from the inbox and quickly retrieve it when needed. If you just landed on this post, make sure to begin the process with part I, covering the When of Email Management, and then move into part II, which is the What of email management.
Mastering the WHERE of Email Overload
Once an action or a decision was made on an email, it should be moved out of the inbox. However, many people leave completed emails in their inbox these days, for a number of reasons:
- It takes too long to file them away in an email folder
- They aren’t sure where to file the email or what they should do next
- There may be more than one folder the email could be filed in
- They think it’s easier to find it again later if it is left in the inbox
The key is to realize that we are much better off managing out priorities rather than trying to manage our history. They reckon that 70% of what goes into a physical filing cabinet is never looked at again. With email, it’s more like 95%! So, why not set up a filing system that is quick and easy to use.
Principle # 1 – Separate ‘completed’ from ‘incomplete’
|The first principle for controlling the WHERE of Mastering Email is to separate finished or completed emails from those that are unfinished or incomplete, in the same way that ‘completed’ paperwork, documents and files are moved out of the working and decision-making environment (ie: your desk) and put into a filing system or cabinet of some sort.
Even those who keep all their email in their inbox are often unaware of the psychological ‘drag’ that results from having unfinished emails and tasks mixed in with those that are finished. Their concept of keeping all email in one folder to minimize filing and make it easier to use search is exactly the correct approach to storing and filing email these days – it’s just that the inbox is NOT the appropriate folder for that purpose.
The inbox is simply a decision-making environment. Once actioned or a decision made on an email, it should be moved out of the inbox. The aim should be to empty the inbox at least once a day and preferably each time it is visited – see the article on 7 Reasons to Keep the Inbox Empty.
Principle # 2 – Simplify your email folder structure
Simplifying your email folder structure will make it quick and easy to use. Most of us have been using email for many years, adding folders over time and developing a folder structure with a large number of folders; some have a very large number!
And these tend to have grown organically rather than in a well-structured or organized manner. As a result, they are often very difficult and slow to use when filing or retrieving emails.
The first step is to better structure all these folders. Just as we take a file or document and put it into a filing cabinet when we’ve finished working on it, we can do the same with email. And when we place a document into the filing cabinet, we don’t put it just anywhere but we tend to go to drawer first and then a specific folder.
|We can do the same with email by setting up a Primary Folder called Filing Cabinet and 4 subfolders as follows;
1. External – clients, suppliers etc.
2. Internal – departments, personnel etc.
3. Projects – subject matter, outputs etc.
4. Admin – rosters, payroll, accounts etc.
Once this filing cabinet has been set up you can drag n’ drop your existing email folders into the appropriate drawer. You will now have the same amount of folders yet in a better structure – it is easier to go to the primary folder and then the appropriate sub-folder than to try finding the sub-folder that is only differentiated by the first letter of its name.
The second step is to consolidate folders as you move them to the Filing Cabinet. Instead of having, say, 15 folders under the Client folder, take the contents of each folder and place them all into the Client folder. This reduces the number of folders from 15 to 1 and then you can start finding email by using either;
- the Sort for each column (Sent by, Received from, Date received, Size etc.)
- the Search function (simply type in a name, topic, keyword etc.)
This process reduces however many folders you have now down to just 4. And the marvel of search is that, used well, it will can find anything in your folders relating to the search term – in the subject line, body of the message, any attachments etc.
The third step is to reduce everything down to just one single folder for storing all email. The ultimate example of this is Google. Most people think of google as a search engine. But when you think it about, google is simply one big filing cabinet . . . and comes with a powerful search engine!
We can use the same model for our email. Rather than storing email in a number of folders, even if it’s only a small number, why not store all email in one single folder (called Filing Cabinet) and rely upon the sort and search functions to re-find them as needed later?
So that’s the third W of the WWW of Mastering Email. By getting control of WHEN you address email, WHAT you do with each message and WHERE you file it, you can begin to master your email and save an enormous amount of time and energy.
Have you tried these method or have other tactics to stay on top of email and avoid overload? Please share with the rest.