I have been through many different training courses on productivity and read a lot of books, and while I don’t practice a particular one, from them I have formed my own personal methods and processes. One time I was hired for a consulting engagement because as the client said, “You get an amazing amount of things done, so I want to work with you to learn how to do that.” Recently though I felt as if I was bogged down and wasn’t getting as much done as I wanted to. I had trouble making decisions, and was making dumb mistakes on things that I should not be having trouble with.
I knew what one of my main issues was, and I dreaded tackling it. It is the thing that is the Achilles heal of executives the world over… email! I have various email accounts for different purposes. Over the course of the last year as life has been stressful and frustrating, I let them dwindle into chaos. It took me over a week, to delete over 30,000 emails (yes that is correct). Most of them were just old stuff I had no reason to be saving, or were from lists I have signed up for and a ton of articles I emailed myself to review again at a later time. It took a while, but when I finally got my inboxes down to zero, it felt like a huge weight came off me and I could feel my mind clear.
In order to be productive you can’t rely on caffeine, or other stimulants to make you work longer. You need systems, tools, and processes.
My system for email is Microsoft Outlook. I have tried many email clients and still have yet to find one that performs as Outlook does. My process for dealing with mail in my system comes from many places, but is as follows:
- I use ONE folder for mail storage. I used to be a filer and since I switched to one folder that is conveniently called, “@Archive” my email life has been so much easier. Searching capability in Outlook and other email systems is a hundred times faster than 5 years ago and it just does not make sense to need dozens of folder for storing
- I have a folder called, “@Action” which contains email I need to act on within the next week or so.
- I have a folder called, “@Deferred” which contains email I have sent to someone, and for which I need a response to soon. The purpose is to easily be able to follow-up with people.
- I have a folder called, “@Someday” which contains email I want to act on, but for which there is no pressing time frame.
- I have another folder called, “To Review” which mostly is articles I have emailed myself, but also might be some list email or something else that I want to review when I have some time.
I have a few pother folders. but they are all temporary. So when I have a big project I am working on, I might have a folder by that project name to keep all my email until the project is over. When it is over the email all goes to the Archive folder and the project folder is is deleted.
I try to keep my inbox down to zero, but it takes diligence. Usually I am on top of it, but this year it slipped. I try to review my folders on a weekly basis during my weekly planning, and process anything I can to keep it clean. That is in addition to my daily planning as well.
The point of this is that keeping your email organized, your desk organized, your computer files organized, and your life organized – will bring greater piece, confidence and success. You will be able to accomplish more, communicate better, and achieve a lot more than you ever thought possible.