best practices in e-mail management

If you are like me, you may struggle with managing the amount of e-mail you receive.  I conducted an online investigation of best practices.  Below is a summary of my key findings:

1.      First Principle: Your inbox should be completely empty

  • Imagine if your e-mail were actual pieces of paper.  In front of me I would have a stack of urgent documents, doodles, research reports, and paper invitations that require my RSVP all jumbled up in a pile.  It’s incredibly disorganized and that’s what I look at every morning when I fire up Outlook/gmail.  Frankly I don’t think it’s good for my mental health, because I always have a nagging feeling that I need to reply to something.

2.       When you read an e-mail, you should immediately do 1 of 3 things:

  • Archive or Delete It:  If you aren’t going to respond or it’s FYI, clear the clutter and clear your mind.  This is the best option.
  • Respond: If you can reply in full in 60-120 seconds, do it now.  Then archive or delete.
  • Flag/Star for Follow Up: If it takes longer than 2 minutes, extended thought or a conversation with someone else, flag it for later.

Later we you have time to “do e-mail” tackle your Flagged folder.  Perhaps, if you want, create a two-tier flagging system to distinguish high priority follow-ups from less pressing ones.

Living with “inbox zero”, both at work and at home, is a zen experience.  I encourage you to empty your inbox immediately.   For more reading, see “How I Declared E-Mail Bankruptcy, and Discovered the Bliss of an Empty Inbox”.

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