I recently returned from a ten-day trip and had an intimidating backlog of email and paper mail from which to dig out. While I enjoyed the time away, I dreaded the daunting task of having to catch up on the accumulation of correspondence. While my trip was part business, my goal was not only to enjoy and learn at the NSGCD conference I attended, but also to take a break from work and relax. To that end, I didn’t carry any electronic devices that would have tethered me to my email 24/7. My administrative assistant handled time-sensitive emails, but the rest were left up to me to handle when I returned.
Close to 500 emails greeted me on my homecoming – that number could have been significantly higher if I weren’t vigilant about not subscribing to non-essential sources of email. Although it could have been worse, the quantity was still a bit overwhelming. Here’s how I handled the email backlog – I’ll fill you in on how I handled my paper piles next week.
- I sorted emails by sender – This allowed me to hone in on the more important sources of email and address and critical issues right away.
- I sorted emails by subject – This allowed me to delete earlier emails in a chain of communications and respond (or not as the situation dictated) to the most recent message.
- I set a timer – To keep me focused on making a decision about what to do with each email and handling it efficiently, I set a timer for 10 minute increments. My goal was to process as many emails as I could in that time and try to beat my prior time for each 10-minute session. I ended up losing count because keeping track distracted me from focusing on processing each email, but the timer definitely encouraged me not to dilly dally.
- I determined the next action needed on each message – As tempting as it might have been to read a bunch of messages and decide which was the most fun or interesting or easy to deal with, I handled each email as I read it, with the goal of doing something meaningful with it so I wouldn’t have to revisit it. I’d respond, delete, forward, or file it for future reference. I could handle some emails quickly, while some took a bit of research or thought, but I didn’t allow myself to move on to the next email until I had moved the current email further along on its journey.
- I celebrated – When I’d finished processing my inbox, I enjoyed the blank white space that filled my computer screen and felt the serenity that it provided. It took about 3 hours of uninterrupted time to plow through the backlog, and re-committed me to handling my daily email in a similar efficient manner.
Best wishes for success in handling your email efficiently,